Thursday, May 29, 2014

Russia and China block UN Security Council referral of Syria to the ICC

On Thursday 22 May, the UN Security Council voted on a resolution to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court for possible prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the conflict. Vetoes by China and Russia prevented the UN Security Council from adopting the resolution. All the other 13 members of the Council, including the United States, voted in favor.

France drafted the resolution and managed to generate the wide support of nearly 60 states through its skillful diplomacy. Its introduction of the resolution to the Council was powerful and directly addressed China and Russia and their refusal to act on the situation of Syria. France emphasized that the severity of Syria’s situation calls for a unified international response, where Russia and China are the only ones obstructing any such action. The statements by the other Council members confronted at length and in detail the horrors of the atrocities and suffering in Syria, all pointing to the shamefulness of the vetoes in this context. France hereby successfully achieved its objective to isolate and condemn Russia and China for their failure to act.

Both Chad and Argentina who supported the resolution, also criticized the resolution in their statements. They pointed out that the resolution allowed nationals of other non-member states, such as the U.S., to stay immune from ICC jurisdiction over crimes committed on Syrian territory. Moreover, they highlighted that the resolution banned any UN funding of the costs for the Court from the referral. Had the referral been adopted, the Court might not have been able to afford the money to pursue the cases.

Samantha Power, United States Ambassador to the UN, delivered a particularly strong and emotional statement. It included the story of one victim’s suffering, who was present during the meeting himself.  According to Russia and China, the statement by the U.S. was hypocritical because the U.S. had so far not continued to pursue a political solution to Syria’s situation. However, the other Council members mostly agreed that the effort for a political solution in meetings in Geneva had failed, and several cited the resignation statement of the UN Special Envoy for Syria. The emotional power of the Syrian situation evoked by Ambassador Power and most other Council members only enhanced the isolation of Russia and China and kept the debate almost entirely clear of any other political concerns. This was France’s main objective and its success was clear in the petulant tone of the closing statements by China and Russia.

The full transcript of the UN Security Council meeting can be found here.

  Written by Laura van Esterik

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