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Security Council Fails to Adopt Draft Resolution Condemning Syria’s Crackdown on Anti-Government Protestors, Owing to Veto by Russian Federation, China

4 October 2011
Security CouncilSC/10403
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

6627th Meeting (Night)

Security Council Fails to Adopt Draft Resolution Condemning Syria’s Crackdown

on Anti-Government Protestors, Owing to Veto by Russian Federation, China


The Security Council this afternoon failed to adopt a resolution that would have condemned “grave and systematic human rights violations” in Syria, and would have warned of options for action to be considered against the Government of President Bashar al-Assad if the unfolding situation warranted, including measures under the section of the United Nations Charter that allowed sanctions.

The text, which was defeated due to the negative votes of two permanent Council members (China, Russian Federation), drew 9 votes in favour with 4 abstentions (Brazil, India, Lebanon, South Africa).  It would have demanded an immediate end to violence and urged all sides to reject extremism, expressing “profound regret at the deaths of thousands of people including women and children”.

The resolution would have demanded that Syrian authorities immediately stop using force against civilians and allow the exercise of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and other fundamental rights.  It would have called for the release of all political prisoners and peaceful demonstrators.

Reaffirming the need to resolve the crisis peacefully, the failed resolution would have called for a Syrian-led political process, including the Syrian opposition and all sectors of society, to address the legitimate aspirations of Syria’s population in an environment free from fear and extremism.

Through the text, the Council would have expressed its intention to consider its options, “including measures under Article 41 of the Charter of the United Nations”, after a review of the text, which would have taken place after 30 days.

Following the vote, opponents of the text stressed their concern over the violence in Syria, but said that the threat of sanctions was counterproductive, maintaining that instead the Council should prioritize dialogue between the parties.  They also stressed the importance of the principle of non-intervention in domestic affairs and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria.

The representative of the Russian Federation said that his country’s emphasis on the non-acceptability of military intervention had not been taken into account and he warned that the collapse of President Assad’s Government could destabilize the entire region.  He expressed alarm that compliance with Security Council resolutions on the situation in Libya had been considered a model for future actions that could include the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

“We’re not advocates of the Assad regime,” he said, stressing that the violence was unacceptable, but adding that a portion of the Syrian opposition movement had not hidden its extremist bent, hoping for foreign sponsors.  That opposition was acting outside the law and killing people who complied with law enforcement.  The Russian Federation would continue to work with “patriotic” opposition groups who opposed foreign interference, he said.

Brazil’s representative said she wished that more efforts had been made to master broader support before the text had been put to a vote, because it was very important that the Council be able to act with caution and with a single voice.  A meaningful, inclusive national dialogue leading to reform was the only way out of the current crisis, she added.

The supporters of the resolution countered, however, that the proposed text included the call for national dialogue.  Moreover, it did not threaten the sovereignty of the country, but aimed to stop the brutality against civilians exercising their rights, which had only increased following the Council’s 3 August presidential statement.  They pointed to condemnations by the League of Arab States and others in the region as evidence of international support for Council action.

Calling for “an end to the bloodbath”, and maintaining that every effort had been made to incorporate the concerns of all Council members during negotiations, France’s representative said: “We cannot doubt the meaning of the veto of this text.”  It was a veto on principle, evincing a disdain for the legitimate interests in Syria.  He said France would not stop its efforts to ensure that human rights were respected in Syria and that those responsible for serious violations were held accountable.  He commended the courage of all men and women who continued to fight for freedom there.

The representative of the United States expressed outrage over the Council’s failure to take minimum steps to protect civilians in Syria after long, hard negotiations.  She warned that, after today’s veto, the people of Syria could see who supported their aspirations for freedom and democracy and who chose to prop up “desperate, cruel dictators”.

Taking the floor last, Syria’s representative said that the unprecedented, aggressive language used against the leaders of his country underscored what he had previously said — that the country was targeted, not because of any humanitarian concerns, but because of its independent political positions.  Syria did need reform, he acknowledged, but the needs of the masses were being misused by the external opposition that was paving the way for external intervention.

He said that terrorist groups were responsible for the violence, and maintained that the country was in the process of enacting reforms.  He accused certain countries of not being interested in reform, but in toppling his Government, which went against basic principles of the United Nations Charter and international law.

Also speaking were the representatives of China, Portugal, India, United Kingdom, Colombia, Lebanon, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany and South Africa.

The meeting began at 6:20 p.m. and ended at 7:45 p.m.


GÉRARD ARAUD (France) said that amid the thousands of refugees in Syria and Lebanon, “we see the terrible result of the actions of the Syrian Government since last March”, which many countries had refused to condemn.   France had worked tirelessly to bring about a response from the Security Council.  The “brutal crackdown” against those in Syria calling for the legitimate exercise of their rights must stop and an inclusive political process must emerge.  Diplomatic efforts had been made, but Syria had been deaf to those steps, he said.  United international action was needed.  Since May, the Council had been working to send a united message to Syrian authorities, including with the adoption on 3 August of a presidential statement calling for an immediate cessation of violence.

From there, a draft resolution had been developed, and all efforts had been made to present a unanimous response, he said.  France had withdrawn the issue of sanctions, though it thought that was necessary, and the text submitted today was close to the presidential statement of 3 August.  “We cannot doubt the meaning of the veto of this text,” he said.  It was a veto on principle — a disdain for the legitimate interests in Syria.  It did not support the movement for democracy.

“This veto will not stop us,” he continued, adding: “No veto can give carte blanche to Syrian authorities”.  Calling for “an end to the bloodbath”, he said France would not stop its efforts to ensure that rights were respected and that those responsible were held accountable.  With that, he commended the courage of all men and women who continued to fight for freedom in Syria.  The Council could not escape its obligation to guarantee that and he regretted that had not been the case today.

VITALY CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said it was obvious that this evening’s result was not a question of the acceptability of wording; it was a conflict of political approaches.  From the start, the Russian Federation had made efforts to develop an effective reaction from the Council to events in Syria, the first of which had been reflected in a consensual presidential statement.  Together with China, the Russian Federation had prepared a draft resolution, which had been changed to bear in mind the concerns of colleagues.  At the heart of that text was the respect for sovereignty and non-intervention into State affairs, the unity of Syrians and an invitation to all to an even-handed dialogue geared towards achieving peace by reforming the socio-economic life of the country.

The Russian Federation could not agree with the accusatory tone against Damascus, he said, nor the ultimatum of sanctions against peaceful crisis settlement.  The Russian Federation’s proposals on the non-acceptability of military intervention, among others, had not been taken into account.  The collapse of President Bashar al-Assad’s Government could provoke a conflict, destabilize the region, and create a destructive impact on the Middle East.  The situation could not be considered apart from the Libyan experience.  He was alarmed that compliance with Security Council resolutions in Libya had been considered a model for future actions by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).  It was important to see how that model had been implemented.  The demand for a ceasefire had turned into a civil war, the humanitarian, social and military consequences of which had spilled beyond Libya.  The arms embargo had turned into a naval blockade on west Libya.  Such models should be excluded from global practice.

“We’re not advocates of the Assad regime,” he said, stressing that the violence was unacceptable, but that the reason for such dramatic events was not only rooted in the hard actions of Syrian authorities.  The “radical” opposition had not hidden its extremist bent, hoping for foreign sponsors and acting outside the law.  Armed groups supported by “diversionary” supplies were taking over the land, killing people who complied with law enforcement.  Many Syrians did not share the demands for quick regime change.  They favoured gradual change, which was starting to be implemented.  The best way out of the situation was to refuse a confrontation and bring parties together to devise intra-Syrian political process.

He said the Russian Federation called on the Syrian regime to quickly implement change; free detainees who had committed no crime; start a dialogue with the opposition; and interact more with the League of Arab States.  His Government would continue to work with the “patriotic” groups of Syrian opposition who had said they did not want interference in their country’s affairs.  “There’s no alternative to dialogue,” he said.  If the opposition believed the laws of the country were imperfect, they must take up the Government’s invitation to discuss them.  If Council colleagues accepted the logic aimed at full reconciliation, the Russian Federation would continue to work on the Russian-Chinese draft which contained the vital concept of a settlement.

LI BAODONG (China) said he was highly concerned with the developments in Syria and called on all parties there to avoid further bloodshed.  He hoped that the Government would follow through on reform and a process of dialogue.  The Council should encourage those objectives while respecting Syria’s sovereignty’s and territorial integrity.  Any action it took should contribute to peace and stability and comply with the United Nations Charter principles of non-interference in internal affairs.  His country’s position on those principles had remained consistent and firm.

The alternate draft resolution that China supported, he said, respected those principles and encouraged dialogue to resolve the crisis in Syria.  As sanctions might exacerbate that situation, the draft voted on today did not facilitate the easing of the situation.  His country would continue to support a peaceful resolution of the crisis and the mediation activities of relevant countries in the region towards that end.

JOSÉ FILIPE MORAES CABRAL (Portugal) deeply regretted that the Council was unable to condemn and end the violent repression in Syria.  The key objective was to prevent further bloodshed, and for that reason, the European members of the Council had worked hard with other members on a suitable text.  He said the ongoing violations of human rights in Syria must stop immediately and those responsible must be held accountable.

Urging access for Human Rights Council representatives and humanitarian organizations, he said that, by consistently barring access to those organizations as well as the Arab League, the Syrian authorities had sent a “negative signal” regarding their intentions.  Pledging his country’s respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria, he urged that a process of dialogue be started in the country.  Violence was not the answer, he affirmed.

HARDEEP SINGH PURI (India), stressing the importance of Syria in its region, expressed his concern about the unfolding events and deplored all violence, irrespective of its perpetrators.  He said all States must respect the grievances and the aspirations of their citizens, but they also must protect those citizens when dissident groups took violent action.  Constructive dialogue was the only way forward. 

His country, he said, had urged the Syrian authorities to exercise restraint, abjure violence and listen to the aspirations of their people.  It was also necessary that the opposition give up armed insurrection and engage with authorities.  The international community should facilitate dialogue and not threaten sanctions or regime change.  Today’s draft did not address concerns over sanctions, nor condemn violence even-handedly, nor adequately lead to the necessary dialogue.  That was why he could not support that text.

MARK LYALL GRANT ( United Kingdom) was deeply disappointed that Council members had blocked the text’s adoption.  Two months ago, the Council had adopted a presidential statement condemning human rights violations and the use of force by Syrian authorities, calling for end to violence and a commitment to reform.  Since then, the situation had deteriorated.  The Syrian regime continued to repress its people, killing almost 3,000 civilians and arbitrarily detaining others.  Its actions could amount to crimes against humanity and there had been no signs of reform.  “How can there be genuine dialogue when the regime is denying its people the freedom of association and of speech?” he asked.  The Secretary-General had called for coherent measures to be taken and the time for strong Council action was long overdue.  The United Kingdom believed the time had come to impose sanctions, but a Council minority had said they opposed them.

In an effort to maintain unity, the United Kingdom had engaged in negotiations aimed at ensuring the Council could send strong signal to stop the violence in Syria, he said, stressing that his delegation had worked to meet the concerns of Council members.  It had removed sanctions from the text, yet the language was still unacceptable.  It had called on all sides to reject violence.  Again, that was unacceptable.  By including a reference to Article 41 of the Charter, the text had made clear that steps taken would be non-military.  Again, it was unacceptable.

The text contained nothing that Council members should have felt the need to oppose, he said.  Some members had made bilateral attempts to persuade the Syrian Government to change course, and each time, that Government had failed to deliver.  By blocking today’s resolution, the onus was now on those countries to persuade Syria to end violence and pursue reform.  The Council would need to shoulder its responsibilities and take the “tough action that it was prevented from taking today”.

NÉSTOR OSORIO (Colombia) said his delegation had voted in favour of the resolution, convinced the text was the ideal means for urging the Syrian authorities to immediately end their violent offensive against civilians.  The primary responsibility of the Government was to protect its population, and the Syrian authorities had not done so.  The solution to the crisis would emerge through a political process that took into account Syrians’ legitimate aspirations.  Their freedoms and human rights must be respected.  He lamented that the Council had not adopted the text and that veto had been used to reject it, especially after months of negotiations and non-inclusion of sanctions.

SUSAN RICE (United States) said her country was outraged that the Council had failed to address serious human rights violations and a growing threat to international peace and security in Syria, adding that two members had vetoed a “vastly watered down text that didn’t even mention sanctions”.  She affirmed, however, the need for tough, targeted sanctions and an arms embargo to protect the population.  Following tonight’s vote, she maintained, the people of Syria could now see who supported their aspirations for freedom and democracy and who chose to prop up “desperate, cruel dictators”.  The latter would have to answer people around the world who desired freedom and democracy.

Noting the condemnations levelled against Syrian authorities by international as well as regional critics, she said that the arguments against strong Council action grew weaker every day.  Today’s text was not about Libya, or about military intervention; that suggestion was a ruse by those who would rather sell arms to the Syrian regime than stand with the people of the country.  The Human Rights Council had not even been able to send human rights monitors to the country.  She asked those opposing strong action to change their course.  She pledged that the crisis in Syria would stay before the Council, and that she would keep pressing the case until the body rose to its responsibilities.

NAWAF SALAM (Lebanon) reiterated his country’s deep concern for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Syria, as well as the safety of its people.  He referred to the position previously stated by his country before the Council.

IVAN BARBALIĆ (Bosnia and Herzegovina) expressed deep concern over the crisis in Syria, stressing respect for its sovereignty and territorial integrity, but urging the immediate launch of reforms and an end to the violence.  He said that all those who had committed crimes must be brought to justice and human rights monitors and humanitarian workers must have access to the population.  He maintained that the proposed resolution could have benefited the Syrian people as well as peace and security in the region.

PETER WITTIG (Germany) said the Syrian security forces had violently cracked down on demonstrations that were overwhelmingly peaceful.  Syrians were demanding their basic rights — a demand that had been met with “murder and forced disappearances”.  Expressing profound respect for the hundreds of thousands of people risking their lives for a better future, he urged Syrian authorities to release all political prisoners and other detainees.  For months, the international community had called on Syrian authorities to end the violence and comply with its international obligations.  Not one appeal had been heeded and violent repression had continued.  Today, the Council had had a chance to decide that such actions would not go unanswered, and he regretted that the 15-nation body could not find a common voice to denounce such grave violations.  The stakes were high — Syria would move closer to civil war, threatening international peace and security.

Now was the time to engage towards more stability, he said, stressing that the Council had failed to live up to its Charter responsibilities.  Germany would have wished for a stronger resolution at a much earlier stage.  The European sponsors of the current text had worked towards a compromise and had made substantial concessions.  Germany was deeply disappointed that Council members had been unable to agree and that veto power had been used.  Nonetheless, that should not spoil the message sent out by a large part of the international community.  “We do not want to stand idly by while atrocities are being committed,” he said, stressing that members of the Syrian regime would be held accountable and must understand that the only future would be through a viable, inclusive political process.  Germany would continue to push for sanctions, if need be, against those repressing their people.  The Syrian people should know that Germany would not relent in efforts to stand by them.

BASO SANGQU (South Africa) expressing deep concern at the humanitarian situation in Syria, condemned the loss of life and called for maximum restraint from all parties and for an immediate end to the violence.  Syrian authorities should facilitate access by United Nations humanitarian agencies, under international humanitarian and human rights law, and a political process must be launched to guarantee that fundamental rights and freedoms were respected.  In the same vein, he encouraged the opposition to participate in dialogue with a view to ensuring peace.  A solution must be found that ensured political reform and justice and which met the human rights and socio-economic development needs of the Syrian people.

That solution also must preserve the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria, he said, a country that was integral to resolving the wider Middle East situation.  Any Council action should be aware of that fact.  Council texts had been abused and implementation had gone far beyond mandates.  South Africa was concerned about the imposition of punitive measures on Syria, believing that they had been designed “as a prelude to other actions”.  The Council should not be part of any hidden agenda for regime change.  The resolution’s sponsors had rejected language that had opposed military intervention in Syria.  For those reasons, his delegation had abstained.

MARIA LUIZA RIBEIRO VIOTTI (Brazil) said the situation in Syria was of great concern, which her Government had voiced on numerous times, including to Syrian authorities.  Brazil had called for the violence to end and for humanitarian access to be granted.  The Human Rights Council’s commission of inquiry would be chaired by Brazil and she hoped the Syrian authorities would cooperate with that mission.  While lauding efforts by the resolution’s co-sponsors to take the views of various Council members into account, she wished that more efforts would have been made to master broader support before the text had been tabled.  It was very important that the Council be able to act with caution and with a single voice.  More time could have allowed for differences to be bridged.  She regretted that that had not been the case.  A meaningful, inclusive national dialogue leading to reform was the only way out of the current crisis.  In that context, Arab States were encouraged to play a constructive role.  For its part, Brazil would continue to advocate for such engagement with a view to achieving a peaceful end to the crisis.

BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria) said that the unprecedented, aggressive language resorted to by certain representatives against the leaders of his country underscored what he had previously said — that Syria was being targeted, not because of any humanitarian concerns, but because of the prejudice in certain Western capitals against his country’s independent political positions.  He listed assassinations of prominent Syrians, including university deans, which had been carried out by what he called “terrorist armed groups” in his country.  He also cited some 800 officials and citizens that had been killed by such groups, which had targeted the State and important institutions.

Despite those crimes, he said, certain States denied the existence of such terrorist groups while hosting their leaders in their capitals, even though those States were infamous for their human rights violations — in Viet Nam, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Cambodia, Algeria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya — to mention just a few examples.  Syria did need reform, he acknowledged, and was striving to achieve it.  The needs of the masses were being misused, however, by the external opposition that was paving the way for external intervention.  The honest opposition had eschewed external intervention in the country’s domestic affairs.  The States that favoured such intervention had resorted to defamation of Syria and had taken measures “outside multilateralism”.  Meanwhile, one of those States had used the veto 50 times to protect Israel, turning a blind eye to its “massacres” of Palestinians.

His country was enacting many measures in the interest of reform, which could not be ignored, independent of external pressures.  In addition, he said, no State was more anxious to maintain the safety and security of its citizens.  During the crisis, Syria had endeavoured to protect its people and it continued to provide services despite the measures being taken against it, which were hurting the Syrian people and their livelihoods, showing that humanitarian concerns that had been expressed were merely a pretext to intervene.  Non-interference in domestic affairs of States was enshrined in the United Nations Charter; therefore calls to topple his Government by violence violated international law.  Interference served, in addition, to encourage extremist groups to continue their destruction.

The sponsors of the draft text before the Council today were “leading the world into a new era of colonialism, after leading it into two world wars and infinite suffering”.  He thanked the friendly States that had rejected the draft, who represented the voice of the wise and had extended a hand to Syria, encouraging all parties there to engage in dialogue and reform.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.