China, Russia veto UN attempt to refer Syria to ICC

AFP , Friday 23 May 2014

UN Security Council
Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin (L) looks on as (2nd L-R) Rwanda's UN Ambassador Eugene-Richard Gasana, Britain's Ambassador to the UN Mark Lyall Grant, and US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power vote in the UN Security Council to refer the Syrian crisis to the International Criminal Court for investigation of possible war crimes at the UN headquarters in New York May 22, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)

China and Russia vetoed Thursday a draft UN Security Council resolution to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court for crimes committed by both sides in the three-year civil war.

Western powers pressed for the resolution in the face of mounting atrocities in Syria, including chemical attacks, systematic torture, barrel bombings and blocked aid access.

It was the fourth time China and Russia have blocked Western resolutions on the conflict, paralyzing Security Council efforts to end a war estimated to have killed more than 160,000 people.

The 13 other members of the Security Council voted in favor and Western powers rounded on China and Russia for protecting not just the Syrian regime but also opposition "terrorist groups."

China and Russia hit back saying that forcibly referring both sides to international justice would complicate efforts to find a political solution and fan the flames of war.

"Our grandchildren will ask us years from now how we could have failed to bring justice to people living in hell on earth," said US ambassador Samantha Power.

"The victims of the Assad regime's industrial killing machine and the victims of terrorist attacks deserve more than to have more dead counted," she added.

Moscow is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's closest ally and has provided him with diplomatic cover throughout the crisis.

Beijing generally aligns with the Russian position.

"It is disgraceful that they have yet again vetoed the Security Council's efforts to take action on human rights violations in Syria," said British ambassador Mark Lyall Grant.

The text, drawn up by France, was co-sponsored by 60 countries, including members of the European Union, Japan, South Korea and several African states.

Syria is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court so only the Security Council can decide whether to refer war crimes or crimes against humanity on its territory to the court.

It did the same for Darfur in 2005 and Libya in 2011.

Western powers said they would continue to document atrocities and press for justice.

French ambassador Gerard Araud said it was "absurd" for Russia to claim that the referral would lay the groundwork for "outside military intervention" in Syria.

Jan Eliasson, deputy secretary general of the United Nations, told the Security Council before the vote that the chamber's more than three years of disagreement was deeply damaging.

"If members of the Council continue to be unable to agree on measures that could provide some accountability for the ongoing crimes, the credibility of this body and of the entire organization will continue to suffer," he said before the vote.

Russian envoy Vitaly Churkin criticized France, and accused Britain and the United States of hypocrisy in not wanting war crimes in Iraq referred to the ICC.

Chinese ambassador Liu Jieyi said the referral would only jeopardize efforts to push for a political settlement.

"To forcibly refer the situation of Syria to the ICC is neither conducive to building trust among all parties in Syria or to the early resumption of negotiations in Geneva," he said.

Peace talks have been locked in stalemate since February and international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi has resigned.

Western diplomats say China is embarrassed but was reluctant to oppose Russia again after abstaining from a resolution denouncing the separatist referendum in Crimea in March.

Amnesty International accused China and Russia of displaying "chilling disregard" for the countless victims in Syria.

"A crucial opportunity for justice has been squandered. Once again, Russia and China have abandoned the Syrian people for the sake of salvaging political alliances," the rights group said.

"Not only does this move risk emboldening those who are committing crimes with impunity but it is yet another sign of how the international community is failing Syrians."

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