Double Veto Prevents Security Council from Adopting Draft Resolution Intended to Impose Sanctions for Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria
Measure Fails after China, Bolivia, Russian Federation Oppose Text’s Passage
Following the casting of vetoes by two of its five permanent members, the Security Council failed to adopt a draft resolution today that would have imposed sanctions on entities and individuals deemed to be involved in the production or use of chemical weapons in Syria.
By a vote of 9 in favour to 3 against (Bolivia, China, Russian Federation), with 3 abstentions (Egypt, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan), the Council rejected the draft, annexed to which was a list designating 21 Syrian individuals, companies and organizations that would have been subjected to the proposed measures. The sanctions would have included the freezing of assets, bans on travel and embargoes on specific equipment and materials, including chlorine and other components of chemical weapons.
The text would have seen the Council — acting under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter — take note of recent reports by the Joint Investigative Mechanism of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) identifying actors involved in several cases of chemical weapons use in Syria. It would also have decided to establish a Committee to designate other individuals, groups and entities to be subjected to the proposed measures, as well as a panel of experts to gather and analyse information on their implementation.
Among specific sanctions proposed in the draft, the Council would have decided that all Member States would freeze all funds, other financial assets and economic resources in their territories, either owned or controlled by individuals listed in the annex to the text, and take the necessary measures to prevent entry into or transit through their territories of those individuals.
The Council would have decided further that States would take measures to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to annexed individuals or entities of all arms and related materials used to deliver chemical weapons. Those materials would include chlorine, as well as items specified by the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction. They would also include materials listed in a letter from the Permanent Representatives of France, the United Kingdom and the United States to the Council President (document S/2017/170).
Speaking before the vote as one of three main co-sponsors — the others being the United Kingdom and the United States — France’s representative declared: “We are at a moment of truth.” Backsliding on the issue of chemical weapons was particularly terrible today, when such crimes, once thought to be in the past, were again happening “before our eyes”. Weakness and inaction were simply not an option, he emphasized. “It is our credibility that is at stake,” he said, demanding: “What are we waiting for?”
In similar vein, the United Kingdom’s representative said the vetoes cast by the Russian Federation and China were at complete odds with the principles of non-proliferation that they claimed to support. Those two countries had demonstrated their support for a regime that had indiscriminately bombed its own people, he said, noting that today’s action marked the Russian Federation’s seventh veto on Syria in five years. What more proof was needed that Moscow would protect the regime rather than the Syrian people? he asked.
The Russian Federation’s representative, responding to those comments and other similar allegations, pointed out that his delegation had expressed serious concerns about the Joint Investigative Mechanism’s recent third and fourth reports, including uncorroborated evidence contained therein. The Mechanism had relied on various “suspicious sources”, he said, describing the draft resolution as a politically motivated text aimed at blaming the Government of Syria for chemical weapons use and laying the groundwork for regime change. The draft had been put to the vote today in an effort to undermine the political talks currently under way in Astana, Kazakhstan, he added.
Similarly, Syria’s representative said that the France, United Kingdom and United States “triangle” continued to pursue its politicized and dangerous approach to the situation in his country, thereby subjecting the Government of Syria to the worst form of blackmail. Reiterating Syria’s firm position against the use of chemical weapons and all weapons of mass destruction, he said the draft’s main co-sponsors had chosen to “ignore reality in order to further their agendas”, and were attempting to levy all possible obstacles against a political solution to the conflict in Syria.
Ethiopia’s representative, explaining his abstention, also condemned the use of chemical weapons for any reason under any circumstance. In Syria, however, the Joint Investigative Mechanism had not been able to find “highly convincing”, “substantial” or even “sufficient” evidence, but only “sufficient information”, he emphasized. While Ethiopia’s belief that the conclusions were not firm enough was not intended to cast aspersions on the Mechanism, he said, it was nevertheless obligated to point out areas requiring further inquiry.
Other speakers today were representatives of the United States, Japan, Uruguay, China, Italy, Bolivia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Sweden, Senegal and Ukraine.
The meeting began at 11:35 a.m. and ended at 1:18 p.m.
Action on Draft Resolution
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) recalled that his own delegation and those of the United Kingdom and the United States had been working for months to bring the Council together in responding to the heinous crime of chemical weapons use against civilians in Syria. Backsliding on that issue today was particularly terrible, because crimes previously thought to be in the past were happening again “before our eyes”. He called on the Council to recognize that “we are looking at the repeated and methodical use of [weapons of mass destruction], in this case chemical weapons, against civilians”. Weakness and inaction were simply not an option, he emphasized, recalling the Council’s resolute commitment of September 2013 to impose Chapter VII measures in cases of chemical weapons use in Syria. “We are at a moment of truth,” he said, emphasizing that the responsibility of the Syrian regime and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) in several cases of chemical weapons use had been clearly identified. It was the Council’s duty to punish those “who have done the unspeakable”, he added, underlining the importance of sending a warning and a signal of firmness to those who would seek to break similar taboos in the future. Indeed, failing to do so would be an intolerable message of impunity. Summarizing the draft resolution’s terms, he said the negotiated text was a balanced proposal based on targeted measures. “It is our credibility that is at stake,” he said, asking: “What are we waiting for?”
MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said the Council was about to be asked a simple question: would it take action against those who used chemical weapons and destroyed the lives of civilians in Syria? Recalling the story of 6-year-old Mohammed, killed in a chemical-weapons attack, he said the little boy was “the reason we are here today”. He emphasized: “This is not about politics […] this is about taking a stand when children are poisoned”, and when civilians were maimed and murdered.
The Council then took action on the draft resolution — 9 votes in favour to 3 against (Bolivia, China, Russian Federation), with 3 abstentions (Egypt, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan) — failing to adopt it after two permanent members cast their vetoes.
NIKKI HALEY (United States) said the Russian Federation and China had made an outrageous and indefensible choice in not holding Bashar al-Assad responsible for the use of chemical weapons. “They ignored the facts” and put their friends in the regime ahead of global security, she said. The Council had banned the regime from holding any such arms in 2013, and yet it continued to do so, she said, recalling that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Fact-Finding Mission had confirmed the use of chemical weapons, but lacked the mandate to determine who had been responsible. The Council had established the Joint Investigative Mechanism to answer that question, and at the time, all Council members had indicated their wish to know who had used chemical weapons. The Russian Federation and China had not liked the answer that the Assad regime had used the weapons three times between 2014 and 2015, while ISIL had used them once.
Citing “credible reports” that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons many more times, she noted that the Russian Federation and China had raised questions about the investigation, yet not once had they objected to the investigators’ work over the last year. In response to the Russian Federation’s suggestion that Syria investigate itself, she asked: “Are we going to have ISIL investigate itself, too?” Condemning chemical-weapons use by ISIL or any other non-State actor, she said that group’s actions were no excuse for barbarity on the part of the Syrian regime. As for comments suggesting the resolution’s timing was not right, she said the question should be why the Council had not acted sooner. The United States had already imposed sanctions, and the people and companies involved in Assad’s use of chemical weapons were listed in the annex to the text.
Mr. RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said the vetoes by the Russian Federation and China were at complete odds with the principles of non-proliferation that they claimed to support, notably as signatories to the Chemical Weapons Convention. By vetoing the text, they had undermined the Council’s credibility and rules aimed at preventing chemical weapons use. “This is not a political text”, but rather a technical one, he emphasized, adding that those two countries had demonstrated their support for a regime that had indiscriminately bombed its own people. It was the Russian Federation’s seventh veto on Syria in five years, he pointed out, asking what more proof was needed that Moscow would protect the regime rather than the Syrian people. Describing the Joint Investigative Mechanism as an independent United Nations body that the Russian Federation had helped to create, he said that country had responded to the Mechanism’s results that it did not like by suggesting that Syria conduct its own investigation. It was absurd that the Syrian regime had obstructed the Mechanism’s investigation, he said, warning that failure to respond to violations of international law would only embolden and encourage the regime and Da’esh to continue their use of chemical weapons.
VLADIMIR K. SAFRONKOV (Russian Federation) said he had voted against the draft resolution, which was based on “odious and erroneous” concepts that were in line with the doctrines of Western States. “God will judge you,” he told representatives who had made outrageous statements against the Russian Federation, recalling that his delegation had expressed serious concerns about the Joint Investigative Mechanism’s third and fourth reports. It had also raised concerns when the draft resolution had first come to light in December 2016. He recalled that the late Vitaly Churkin had made several clear comments on the uncorroborated nature of those reports at the time, saying they contained no convincing evidence upon which allegations could be made. Emphasizing that Al Nusra and other terrorist groups had broadly used many toxic substances to discredit the Government of Syria, he said the Mechanism had taken into account the opinions of various “suspicious sources” in its work. Noting the absence of geographic balance in the Mechanism’s composition, he said it had disregarded requests from Damascus to investigate those suspicions.
He went on to state that such politically motivated actions were aimed at laying the blame for chemical weapons use on the Assad Government, thereby laying the groundwork for regime change in Damascus. The Mechanism’s work must be guided by reliable information rather than suppositions and fabricated eyewitness accounts, he emphasized. Stressing that the “one-size-fits-all” approach of imposing sanctions was “categorically unacceptable”, he described the draft resolution as a clear attempt to prejudge the conclusions of investigations into chemical weapons use in Syria. There was also a clear trend of exerting powerful pressure on the Mechanism itself, he said, adding that the text’s attempt to impose an embargo on the supply of helicopters, spare parts and other materials could be seen as an attempt to undermine Syria’s counter-terrorism efforts.
“Against whom, and to what end, has this draft been crafted?” he asked. The document had been put to the vote in an effort to undermine efforts towards a political resolution of the conflict in Syria, currently under way in Astana, Kazakhstan, he said, stressing that, in the context of that politically biased approach, the Russian Federation had had no choice but to vote against the draft resolution, and against attempts to provoke a confrontation.
KORO BESSHO (Japan) stressed that the Council must demonstrate its determination that the use of chemical weapons was not acceptable under any circumstances, recalling that it had decided through resolution 2118 (2013) to impose sanctions in such cases occurring in Syria. The Joint Investigative Mechanism had drawn its conclusions on the basis of its own impartial, objective and independent efforts, but the draft resolution based on its conclusions had, regrettably, not been adopted. Expressing hope for future unity on the matter, he rejected arguments by some speakers about the draft’s timing and reiterated the Council’s consistent support for the political talks in Astana.
ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay) said that, as a supporter of the Code of Conduct against genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes created by the ACT (Accountability, Coherence, Transparency) Group, his delegation was disappointed by the failure to adopt today’s draft resolution. While not perfect, it would have been a first step towards ensuring accountability. As in other sanctions regimes, the chemical weapons measures would have been reviewed by an expert panel had the text been implemented, he said, emphasizing that perpetrators must be held accountable, be they State or non-State actors, armed groups or terrorists. The Council must be able to take action to eliminate the possibility of chemical weapons use against civilians, he stressed.
LIU JIEYI (China) said the ceasefire in Syria had been maintained and a new round of peace talks was under way, which created a rare opportunity to resolve the conflict. Momentum should be consolidated through coordinated actions and by encouraging the parties to maintain dialogue. Anyone interested in Syria and the region would not do anything that contravened those interests, he emphasized. While China opposed the use of chemical weapons by any State, organization or individual, under any circumstance, he urged punishment for perpetrators. Condemning their use in Syria, he noted that investigations were ongoing and it was too early to reach a conclusion. China advocated support for the Joint Investigative Mechanism to carry out its mandate on the basis of objective and fair criteria, as outlined in resolution 2319 (2016) and using evidence that could “stand the test of history”. Noting that the draft was based on conclusions over which the parties still had differences, he said the Council had been forced to a vote, which was not conducive to finding a solution or to the Geneva peace talks. Governments — and the Council itself — should reflect on the situation in Syria and the wider Middle East in order to understand how it had been allowed to degenerate, and the part they had played in that regard.
SEBASTIANO CARDI (Italy) said his delegation had co-sponsored and voted in favour of the draft resolution, which had regrettably not been adopted. Noting that the text was aimed at ensuring follow-up for an instrument that the Council had created, supported and decided to renew, he said he had voted in favour of the text because of Italy’s long-standing position on issues of non-proliferation, which must be kept separate from political considerations. Warning against weakening the United Nations non-proliferation regime, he said Italy had also voted in favour of the text supporting the work of the Joint Investigative Mechanism, which he commended for its dedication and professionalism. “The [Mechanism] has done exactly what it was meant to do,” he said, adding that his delegation’s affirmative vote had also been cast in favour of accountability. “Just identifying the perpetrators is not enough,” he said, stressing the Council’s responsibility to pursue meaningful follow-up and punish those responsible.
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLIZ (Bolivia) reiterated his delegation’s strongest condemnation of the use of chemical weapons and toxic substances, regardless of their perpetrators. Bolivia had voted against the draft, annexed to which was a list of individuals and entities that had not been compiled by the Joint Investigative Mechanism itself, thereby violating due process. As Chair of the 1540 Committee, Bolivia did not wish to see Syria added to its work, which should be focused on ISIL’s actions, he said. Calling on the Council to examine the broader political and security situation in Syria, he said that tabling the text was a political action aimed, not at seeking peace, but at launching a “media offensive” against Council members opposing it.
AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) said that ensuring accountability in Syria or elsewhere required certain elements to be in place. If one was missing, accountability would become politicized, only deepening the crisis. Today’s draft ignored, “for incompressible reasons”, the element of evidence, he said, noting that when proposing sanctions, the common practice was to establish a committee to assess the evidence, after which the sanctions would include entities or individuals. Expressing surprise that the usual steps had been bypassed, he noted that the list annexed to the draft contained the names of those who would be subjected to sanctions, yet the Mechanism had not made accusations against them. There was no evidence to show that the listed individuals and entities were responsible, he said. That contravened transparency in terms of the source of the information. The draft also mixed two different concepts: support for sanctions against those implicated by evidence, and the imposition of sanctions in a matter perceived as a technical one. Egypt had recently outlined its position on the text’s imbalance, especially the lack of evidence, he said, voicing surprise at the insistence on proceeding with a vote without having made modifications to address those imbalances. That was why Egypt had abstained, he said.
TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) said his country’s policy against the use of chemical weapons was uncompromising, adding that their use for any reason, or under any circumstance, violated international law. Condemning their use in Syria, as reported by the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission, he said that determining those responsible — whether State or non-State actors, groups or other entities — should be based on conclusive findings and the perpetrators must be held accountable. Recalling that he had raised questions about the Joint Investigative Mechanism’s third and fourth reports, on which the draft’s sanctions proposal was based, he stressed that due to a number of constraints, the Mechanism could not have found “highly convincing”, “substantial” or even “sufficient” evidence, but only “sufficient information”. Ethiopia’s belief that the conclusions were not firm enough was not intended to cast aspersions on the Mechanism, he emphasized. Rather, it was obliged to point out areas requiring further inquiry so as to determine the individuals and entities responsible for chemical weapons use, he stressed, underlining the need to support the Mechanism and protect its independence.
KANAT TUMYSH (Kazakhstan) said that although his country supported unanimous measures to end the bloodshed in Syria, today’s vote demonstrated the Council’s inability to reach unanimity on that issue, which called for a coherent, balanced and meaningful approach. “We cannot place responsibility on only one side of the conflict for the use of chemical weapons,” he emphasized, adding that punitive measures should only be taken if based on strong, clear and corroborated facts. Given the latter’s absence, Kazakhstan’s delegation had abstained.
CARL SKAU (Sweden) noted that, until today, the Council had always remained united on the matter of chemical weapons use. While having committed itself several years ago to hold accountable those responsible for any use of chemical weapons in Syria, it had failed so far to deliver on that commitment. “The Council cannot remain passive in the case of confirmed non-compliance,” including the use of chemical weapons by a Member State, he emphasized. Describing today’s veto by two permanent members as deplorable, he expressed hope that the Council would once again be able to present a united front against such crimes in the future. Indeed, the Council’s work on the issue “does not end here”, he reminded members, announcing that Sweden planned to commit $220,000 to the Joint Investigative Mechanism’s upcoming fifth report. The Council must continue to hold perpetrators accountable, he said, declaring: “We owe this to all those who have suffered the inhumane consequences of the use of chemical weapons.”
FODÉ SECK (Senegal), emphasizing that nothing could justify the use of chemical weapons, recalled that the Council had created the Joint Investigative Mechanism by adopting resolution 2235 (2015). The Mechanism worked with the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission to find the perpetrators and others involved in chemical-weapons attacks in Syria, and that was why Senegal — a State party to the Chemical Weapons Convention — had voted in favour of the draft.
Mr. DELATTRE (France) expressed deep regret that the Council had not been able to adopt the draft, especially because it had been the subject of far-reaching discussions. “We have enough information, thanks to the Mechanism”, to take necessary measures and shoulder our responsibility, he said. “We cannot resign ourselves to the unthinkable: accepting without reacting.” The Mechanism would continue its work and the Council would have to take a position on cases transferred to it, he said, stressing that France was more determined than ever to draw upon the appropriate institutions to ensure that such crimes did not go unpunished.
VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine), Council President for February, expressed disappointment over the voting results, saying he had supported the text. Calling for adherence to the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the 1925 Geneva Protocol, he said the use of chemical weapons in Syria, confirmed by the Joint Investigative Mechanism, had been in violation of international law and all those responsible should be brought to justice. Ukraine supported the introduction of further restrictive measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter in response to the breach of the Convention and of resolution 2118 (2013). Warning that inability to address violations would lead to further impunity, he commended the delegations involved in preparing the text.
MOUNZER MOUNZER (Syria) noted that the France, United Kingdom and United States “triangle” continued to pursue its politicized and dangerous approach to the situation in his country, through which it subjected the Government of Syria to the worst form of blackmail. The draft resolution rejected today drew upon unprofessional reports — including the fabricated eyewitness accounts of those associated with terrorist groups — written under pressure, he said, reiterating that Syria’s firm position against the use of chemical weapons and all weapons of mass destruction remained unchanged. The three main co-sponsors had tabled the draft simply to protect Israel’s nuclear and biological stockpiles, he said, recalling that Syria had warned several times against the danger they posed. He pointed out his delegation’s warnings were contained in 87 letters to the Council, and in various interactions with the Joint Investigative Mechanism, the 1540 Committee and the Counter-Terrorism Committee.
He went on to note further that his country had provided those with bodies evidence of chemical weapons use by terrorist groups — with support from certain Member States — but the evidence had been intentionally ignored. Indeed, some Council members were attempting to politicize the Mechanism’s reports, which currently lacked a single piece of corroborated evidence. That Mechanism was not in compliance with the principles set out for its work, and it lacked both professionalism and credibility, he said, emphasizing that France, the United Kingdom and the United States had chosen to “ignore reality in order to further their agendas”. It was impossible for Syria to have used chemical weapons, yet the three main co-sponsors had presented the text in an effort to levy all possible obstacles against a political solution to the conflict in Syria, he said.