Referral of Syria to International Criminal Court Fails as Negative Votes Prevent Security Council from Adopting Draft Resolution

22 May 2014
SC/11407

Referral of Syria to International Criminal Court Fails as Negative Votes Prevent Security Council from Adopting Draft Resolution

22 May 2014
Security Council
SC/11407
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

7180th Meeting (AM)


Referral of Syria to International Criminal Court Fails as Negative Votes


Prevent Security Council from Adopting Draft Resolution

 


China , Russian Federation Vote against Text as 13 Other Members Act in Favour


Two permanent members cast negative votes in the Security Council today, preventing the adoption of a draft resolution that would have referred the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.


Speaking before that action — which failed to pass by a vote of 13 in favour to 2 against (China, Russian Federation), with no abstentions — Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson recalled that for more than three years, the Council had been unable to agree on measures to bring an end to the brutal war that hurt not only Syrians, but the entire region.  The Syrian people had a fundamental right to justice, and the United Nations had a duty to defend it, he emphasized, warning that if the Council could not agree, the credibility of the entire Organization would continue to suffer.


France’s representative, speaking after the vote, said the draft resolution was not a new proposal.  The text was based on language approved in previous resolutions and sought to find unity on the basis of values shared among Member States.  It appealed to the human conscience and was not a political gesture, he said, stressing that failure to adopt it was an insult to humanity.


The representative of the United States said the draft resolution was about accountability for crimes so extensive and deadly that they had few equals in modern history.  It was also about accountability on the Council’s part.  Recalling that the International Criminal Court had been able to act when extraordinary crimes had been committed in the past, she asked why the Syrian people did not equally deserve international justice.


The Russian Federation’s representative said that although he understood the motivations of delegations supporting the text and shared their emotions, it was difficult to understand France’s motivation since that delegation had been fully aware of what the end result of tabling the text would be.  Recalling that “P5” unity had been demonstrated by concrete positive results like the adoption of previous resolutions on the Syrian crisis, he asked:  “Why deal a blow to the P5 in this case?” Was it a way to provoke armed intervention?


Syria’s representative said his Government had implemented a series of measures aimed at holding accountable those involved in war crimes and had taken legal action against them.  The National Investigation Committee continued to do its job in parallel with the judiciary, which was looking into thousands of cases.  “This confirms the desire and ability of the Syrian Government to achieve justice and denies any pretext to involve any international judicial body that conflicts with the national judiciary’s powers,” he said.  The crisis had unveiled the level of double standards within United Nations mechanisms and their use to target certain Member States in the name of law and justice.  The draft resolution was political, discriminatory, interventionist and aimed at disrupting Syria’s presidential elections, he said.  Tabling the text represented a continuing attempt by some Member States to portray themselves as the custodians of the Syrian people, and contrasted starkly with the Council’s repeated affirmations of its strong commitment to Syria’s sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity, as well as the call for a political solution.


Also speaking today were representatives of Rwanda, United Kingdom, Jordan, Luxembourg, Chile, Australia, Lithuania, Argentina, Chad, China and the Republic of Korea.


The meeting began at 10:07 a.m. and ended at 12:01 p.m.


Background


The Security Council met this morning to consider the situation in the Middle East.


Opening Remarks


JAN ELIASSON, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, delivered a statement on behalf of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, saying that recent attacks on humanitarian aid convoys in Syria may constitute war crimes.  They demonstrated the immediate need for accountability, he added, emphasizing that the Security Council had an inescapable responsibility to act.


In February 2013, he recalled, the Commission of Inquiry had concluded that the International Criminal Court was the appropriate forum in which to wage the fight against impunity in Syria.  The Syrian people had a fundamental right to justice, and the United Nations had a duty to defend it, he emphasized, expressing support for mechanisms that genuinely held perpetrators to account.


No side in the tragedy was innocent, but accountability would help prevent further atrocities, he said.  For more than three years, the Council had been unable to agree on measures to bring an end to the brutal war that hurt not only Syrians, but the entire region.  If the Council could not agree, the credibility of the entire Organization would continue to suffer, he warned, stressing that those fuelling and exacerbating the conflict from outside must also be held to account.  A joint approach was needed to end the “long nightmare”.


Statements


GÉRARD ARAUD ( France) said the draft resolution before the Council was not a new proposal.  Based on language approved in past resolutions addressing other situations, it sought to find unity based on values shared among Member States.  Recalling the 160,000 Syrians killed and the millions displaced, he said the recent presentation of the “Caesar” report had highlighted the barbarity on the ground.  Thousands of photos, independently authenticated, showed bodies dead by starvation and other brutal methods.  Those were not the dire consequences of a civil war, but a deliberate policy to punish, with the Government bombing neighbourhoods, people disappearing in their thousands and terrorist groups attacking freely.  “Nothing is worse than silence; it is complicity,” he emphasized.


While respecting the divisions within the Council, he continued, the draft resolution assigning the matter to the International Criminal Court did not threaten the prospect of negotiations because there was no peace process to threaten.  Negotiations could not take place because it was now an issue of “killing or being killed”, he added, stressing:  “The impasse should not close our eyes to the atrocities.”  The text had been acceptable to all in resolutions 2118 (2013) and 2139 (2014), and addressed all parties in the Syrian conflict, he said.  It returned to language agreed many times, as in resolution 1593 (2005) on Darfur and 1973 (2011) on Libya.  It appealed to the human conscience and was not a political gesture, and failure to adopt it would be an insult to humanity, he stressed.  “There is a brotherhood in crime,” he said, adding that a veto today would cover all criminals with impunity.


Following a vote of 13 in favour to 2 against ( China, Russian Federation), with no abstentions, the Council did not adopt the raft resolution.


SAMANTHA POWER ( United States) said today was about accountability for crimes so extensive and deadly that they had few equals in modern history.  It was also about accountability on the Security Council’s part.  It was the Council’s responsibility to stop atrocities if it could, and to ensure that the perpetrators of atrocities were held accountable, at a minimum.  It was towards that minimum that the Council had tried to make progress today, but sadly, because of the Russian Federation’s decision to back the Syrian regime no matter what, the Syrian people would not see accountability.  A judicial process would do more than allow for accountability, it would allow victims to speak, she said.


It was important to hear the type of testimony that the International Criminal Court would have heard if the Russian Federation and China had not raised their hands against today’s draft resolution, she continued.  Their vetoes had done more than prevent the Syrian regime from being held accountable.  They also protected monstrous terrorist organizations operating in Syria from being held accountable, as well as radical fundamentalists whose attacks demonstrated a lack of decency and humanity.  When extraordinary crimes had been committed in the past, the International Criminal Court had been able to act, she recalled, asking why the Syrian people did not deserve international justice.  For those who had asked the Council that reasonable question, today they had their answer.  Because of the Russian Federation’s and China’s vetoes, “our grandchildren” would one day ask how the Council could have failed to bring justice to “hell on earth”, she said.


EUGÈNE-RICHARD GASANA ( Rwanda) said the Council was not meeting to hold another debate on the International Criminal Court, declaring:  “We should listen to the voices of the more than 55,000 souls slain in Syria.”  Repeated calls for a political solution in Syria, as well as the Secretary-General’s call for Member States not to supply weapons to those engaged in the conflict, had not been heeded by many.  Nonetheless, the international community must take immediate action, in particular the Council.  Describing the draft resolution as a strong signal to the warring parties in Syria, he said that despite the failure to adopt it, Rwanda would not lose hope for justice and accountability.  In order to attain that goal, Council members must open their hearts and minds to the reality of the conflict, he said.  The Council remained seriously challenged by its inability to prevent such atrocities, and Rwanda urged all members to consider the code of conduct that called for refraining from veto use in cases of crimes against humanity.  “Let all of us put action for humanity above action for interests,” he emphasized.  In that way, the Syrian victims would be honoured and the Council would demonstrate that it had learned lessons from the past.


MARK LYALL GRANT ( United Kingdom) said that support for the draft resolution from 100 non-governmental organizations, 65 co-sponsors and 13 Council members illustrated the international community’s strength.  It was to the Russian Federation’s and China’s shame that they had blocked justice for the Syrian people and the appalling human rights violations committed daily.  Despite today’s vote, however, the United Kingdom would continue to seek accountability and to document atrocities in readiness for the time when those responsible would be brought to justice, he said.


EIHAB OMAISH ( Jordan) expressed his country’s deep regret that the Council had been unable to adopt the draft resolution, while emphasizing its support for the initiative by France designed to limit veto use in cases of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.


SYLVIE LUCAS ( Luxembourg) said that for more than three years, Syrians had fallen further into the horror of violence.  Impunity was one of the reasons for the continuing “bloodbath” in which civilians were the primary victims and atrocities continued to pile up.  Syria was in a state of war, but even war had rules under international law and those rules were violated every day in Syria.  The list of atrocities perpetrated against Syrians was too long, she said, calling particular attention to the untold suffering of children.  They were arrested and arbitrarily detained, poorly treated and tortured.  Many were victims of sexual violence or simply disappeared.  There must be a political solution to the crisis, but efforts to that end had reached deadlock due to the Syrian authorities’ reluctance to discuss a true political transition, she noted.  Justice was a key ingredient in restoring peace to Syria, and the victims deserved at least a sliver of hope that there would be justice and the perpetrators would be held to account.


CRISTIÁN BARROS MELET ( Chile) emphasized his delegation’s support for non-use of veto in cases of genocide, large-scale human rights abuses and crimes against humanity.  The Council must be able to act in defence of protecting humanity.  Adopting the draft resolution had been a necessary step to bring justice for all in Syria, without distinguishing between the warring parties.  The integrity of the Rome Statute must be preserved in efforts to fight impunity, he said, adding that the International Criminal Court was the best mechanism to address the situation.


GARY FRANCIS QUINLAN ( Australia) said the Council had again failed the people of Syria.  Half of the country’s 20 million people had fled and the Government continued its deliberate attacks against its own people through starvation, denial of humanitarian aid, as well as systematic mass torture, sexual violence and executions.  Acknowledging the “chilling evidence” in the “Caesar” report, he said the International Criminal Court had been created specifically to hold those most responsible for such crimes to account, particularly when national authorities were unable or unwilling to address such crimes.  Noting that Australia had written to the Council 18 months ago seeking Syria’s referral to the Court, he said the co-sponsors and other Council members supporting the draft resolution were sending an unmistakeable message to those committing crimes.  “The use of the veto to block the resolution comes at a great human cost,” he said.


RAIMONDA MURMOKAITĖ ( Lithuania) said it was profoundly disappointing and disturbing to see a fourth veto on the situation in Syria.  “With more than 160,000 lives lost, 2.7 million refugees and 6.5 million displaced, the veto was an endorsement of impunity, she said.  “It is a licence for all perpetrators of human rights violations, mass atrocities, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Syria and elsewhere to kill, torture and rape at will.”  None of those barbaric crimes, nor physical destruction beyond description, a lost generation of children, and indiscriminate use of barrel bombs, seemed enough to move those who had once again chosen to veto Council action, thereby protecting the victimizers, rather than the victims.  Referring Syria to the International Criminal Court could not have impeded any process towards peace and reconciliation because no such process was taking place, she noted.  All sides believed they could win the battle by force, at the cost of even more death and destruction, but the long-suffering Syrian people deserved better.  Syria’s referral could have been a crucial first step towards justice and accountability, but today’s veto had callously and cynically denied that step, she said.  “Today’s veto is a stand on the wrong side of justice and accountability, a stand on the wrong side of humanity.”


MARÍA CRISTINA PERCEVAL ( Argentina) said her country supported referring the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, although it had decided not to co-sponsor the draft resolution.  Allowing impunity to be the response to the crimes committed by all parties in Syria not only corroded the foundations of the United Nations, but also the Council’s ability to maintain international peace and security.  There could be no justice without peace, and peace was endangered without justice, she said.  Perpetrators of any heinous crime must be brought to justice, regardless of where the crime had been committed or by whom.  Argentina was disappointed with the vote, and regretted the Council’s inability to speak in one voice, she said.


MAHAMAT ZENE CHERIF ( Chad) condemned all atrocities committed against civilians, while pointing out that such crimes continued to go unpunished and had become more numerous as the crisis continued.  Expressing regret that the draft resolution had not been adopted, he noted that others addressing similar crimes had passed.  He reiterated that all parties should uphold their obligations to allow humanitarian assistance to reach civilians.


VITALY CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) said that although he understood the motivations of delegations supporting the draft resolution and shared their emotions, it was difficult to understand France’s motivation since that delegation had been fully aware of the end result of tabling the text draft.  “P5” unity had been demonstrated through concrete positive results like resolutions 2118 (2013) on the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, or resolution 2139 (2014) on humanitarian issues.  “Why deal a blow to the P5 in this case?” he asked, wondering whether it was a way to provoke an armed response against Syria.  Furthermore, it was damaging to the P5 at such a critical point in the search for a political solution.  The recent resignation of the Joint Arab League-United Nations Envoy for Syria should be an opportunity to seek a way to break the impasse, which was exactly what the draft resolution presented by the Russian Federation aimed to do.


“Bad peace is better than a good quarrel,” he said, citing a Russian saying in pointing out that the draft resolution proposed by “Western colleagues” did not include a list of terrorist organizations, such as the Islamic Front, which led one to wonder whether there was an attempt to change the regime by force.  Such an approach could explain the international community’s failure to reach a negotiated political solution.  Also of note was the absence of any mention of a settlement between the Syrian parties themselves, he noted, saying the “Western troika” had dissuaded another round of Geneva talks.  The draft resolution was using the Court to inflame political passions for outside military intervention, he said.


He went on to recall that when the Council had referred the situation in Libya to the Court, that action had resulted only in throwing “oil on the fire”.  The Court had not risen to the occasion, evading the most pressing matter of bombardment by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces against civilians.  The United States, while calling for referrals to the Court, was not itself a party to the Rome Statute, while the United Kingdom, although a party, was reluctant try its own nationals who were fighting as members of armed groups in Syria.  If either country would refer the Iraqi file to the Court, they would demonstrate their opposition to impunity, he said.  “Abandon your futile dead-end policy,” he advised other Council members, if they valued Syrian lives, to join his delegation in seeking a political solution.  However, for the delegation of France to call the political process “dead” was irresponsible and a betrayal of the Syrian people.


WANG MIN ( China) said that for more than three years, the Syrian people had endured deep suffering while the conflict posed a serious challenge to countries in the region and the whole international community.  China opposed all acts of violence in violation of international humanitarian law or human rights.  However, it had some serious difficulties with the draft resolution.  Any action seeking referral to the International Criminal Court should be based on the premise of respect for the judicial sovereignty of States and the principle of complementarity, he said.  Historically, China had always held reservations about referring situations to the Court.  Although current efforts to seek a political solution were experiencing difficulties, the international community must remain patient.  What was urgently needed was for the Government of Syria and the opposition to agree on an immediate ceasefire and begin a third round of negotiations.  Forcibly referring the situation to the Court in the current environment was neither conducive to building trust nor to the resumption of negotiations in Geneva, he warned.


For some time now, the Council had maintained unity on the question of Syria because members had made efforts to accommodate the major concerns of all sides, he recalled, adding that it should have continued consultations so as to avoid disrupting unity rather than forcibly pushing for a vote.  As for China’s reason for having voted against the draft resolution, he said he had presented his delegation’s point of view based very explicitly on facts.  However, Western countries had made totally “unfounded” accusations against China, which it rejected as insults, he said, noting that his country had always upheld an objective and impartial position on the question of Syria and did not pursue any self-interest on the issue.  China had always been committed to a political settlement of the conflict and had worked in a comprehensive and balanced manner to urge all parties involved to seek a middle path.  China was deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Syria and attached great importance to the legitimate concerns of all parties.


OH JOON ( Republic of Korea), Council President, spoke in his national capacity, underscoring that the situation required swift action.  Seeking accountability was part of that action, as sustainable peace was not possible without it.  It was extremely regrettable that the Council could not take action because of the veto.  “We are letting down the aspirations of the international community and the Syrian people,” he said.  In addition, it was disappointing that efforts for justice were not seen as compatible with efforts for a political solution.  The situation on the ground was too serious and he would continue to call for action, working with the Council to seek a resolution to the matter.


Mr. ARAUD ( France), taking the floor a second time, said he had hoped his earlier statement would have shown the dignity of the debate and not support divisions within the Council.  It was unfortunate that the representative of the Russian Federation had replied with invective and personal attacks.  He recalled that Lakhdar Brahimi had informed the Council that the impasse in Geneva was not because of the Syrian coalition but that the regime had refused the two-prong approach.  He would be willing to impose an arms embargo on Syria, but he didn’t think his Russian colleagues would be so willing.  He also stressed that the “Caesar” documentation had been submitted to independent experts and their assessments were that such photos could not have been altered.


BASHAR JA’AFARI ( Syria) said the international legal system was based on fundamental pillars, the most important of which was that States held the primary and exclusive responsibility for accountability and the establishment of justice.  The Syrian Government had implemented a series of measures aimed at holding accountable those involved in the crisis and had taken legal action against them accordingly.  The National Investigation Committee continued to do its job in parallel with the Syrian judiciary, which was looking into thousands of cases.  “This confirms the desire and ability of the Syrian Government to achieve justice and denies any pretext to involve any international judicial body that conflicts with the national judiciary’s powers.”


He said the crisis had unveiled the level of double standards within the mechanisms of the United Nations and their use to target certain Member States in specific regions of the world in the name of law and justice.  The draft resolution was political, discriminatory, interventionist and aimed at disrupting Syria’s presidential elections.  The tabling of the draft represented a continuing attempt by some Member States to portray themselves as the custodians of the Syrian people, and contrasted starkly with the Council’s repeated affirmations of its strong commitment to Syria’s sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity, as well as the call for a political solution.


The grounds presented by the Member States which had submitting the draft resolution were nothing more than “mere allegations and fabricated lies” based on a series of politicized and biased reports that absolutely “defy reason”, he said.  The reports served the agendas of States engaged in a blatant campaign of aggression against Syria.  The way to help the Syrian people was clear and well known — exerting sincere and serious efforts to fight terrorism and supporting efforts to find a national solution to the Syrian crisis, including through the Geneva negotiations.


Mr. ARAUD ( France), taking the floor once again, said he wished to provide a factual correction on the draft resolution, which the Syrian representative had said exempted foreign mercenary terrorists.  According to text, if a foreign national participated in the operations in Syrian territory, the International Criminal Court could prosecute them.  The draft resolution did not protect terrorists, regardless of their nationality.


Mr. CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) also took the floor again, noting that his French colleague did not sound very convincing today.


Mr. ARAUD ( France) responded by saying that only those who wished to be persuaded could be persuaded.


Mr. CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) responded, saying, “We will not give in to what you say.”


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