Security Council Rejects Two Draft Resolutions on Situation in Syria amid Divisions over Idlib Truce, Armed Groups

SC/13956
19 September 2019
8623rd Meeting (AM)

Security Council Rejects Two Draft Resolutions on Situation in Syria amid Divisions over Idlib Truce, Armed Groups

Permanent Representative Decries Draft as Biased, Political ‘Farce’, Defeating Stated Aim to End Suffering of Millions

The Security Council failed to adopt two draft resolutions on the situation in Syria today — one tabled by Belgium, Germany and Kuwait; the other by China and the Russian Federation — amid heated debate on their content and concern over the fate of civilians in Idlib Governorate.

The draft proposed by co-sponsors Belgium, Germany and Kuwait — which would have called on all parties to immediately cease hostilities to avoid a further deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Idlib Governorate, beginning at noon Damascus time on 21 September — received 12 affirmative votes, 2 negative votes (China, Russian Federation) and 1 abstention (Equatorial Guinea).

That draft also would have demanded that Member States ensure that all measures taken to counter terrorism comply with international law, and stress that such operations do not absolve parties to armed conflicts from their obligations under international humanitarian law.  It would have urged all parties to apply the principles of distinction and proportionality, as well as take all feasible precautions to avoid and minimize harm to civilians and civilian objects.  It would have further requested the Secretary-General to immediately report any violations of international humanitarian law.

The draft proposed by China and the Russian Federation, which holds the Council presidency for September, was defeated by 9 votes against (Belgium, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Kuwait, Peru, Poland, United Kingdom, United States) to 2 votes in favour (China, Russian Federation), with 4 abstentions (Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Indonesia, South Africa).

By its terms, the Council would have decided that all parties maintain the cessation of hostilities as of 31 August to avoid a further deterioration of humanitarian conditions in Idlib.  It also would have reaffirmed that the cessation of hostilities shall not apply to military operations against individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with Council-designated terrorist groups.

“The Council cannot stay silent and must act,” Germany’s representative said as he introduced the first draft.  Describing it as a balanced text, he said it focused purely on the humanitarian situation while also acknowledging that counter-terrorism efforts must be undertaken in accordance with international humanitarian law.

Presenting the second draft, the Russian Federation’s delegate said it took an exclusively humanitarian approach to the issue, avoiding politicized language while also aiming to continue the 31 August ceasefire.  He clarified that air strikes by Syria and the Russian Federation are only being carried out against terrorists and avoid placing civilians at risk.  He reminded the Council that armed combat against terrorists in Syria is almost over and that humanitarian issues must not be used for alternative aims.

During exhaustive debate, Syria’s representative said it was a “surreal farce” that Western countries had drafted a biased and political rather than humanitarian draft resolution.  They say that combating terrorism requires respect for international humanitarian law, but, yet, are silent about dealing with those States that produce terrorism, he said, adding that history would remember today’s meeting as an attempt to embarrass the Russian Federation during its presidency of the Council.  The three co-sponsors did not coordinate with Syria’s delegation on their text, and that agreements concluded in Astana and Sochi underscored the Syria’s right to fight terrorism on its territory.

Also speaking were the representatives of the United States, Dominican Republic, United Kingdom, Peru, South Africa, Côte d’Ivoire, France, Kuwait, Belgium, China, Poland, Indonesia and Equatorial Guinea.

The meeting, which began at 11:47 a.m. and ended at 1:17 p.m., took place immediately after another that addressed the humanitarian situation in Syria.  (See Press Release SC/13955.)

Action

CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany), speaking also for Belgium and Kuwait, said that, despite months of efforts, it has proven impossible to reach agreement among Council members on the humanitarian situation in Idlib.  “The Council cannot stay silent and must act,” he said.  The three delegations, as co-penholders on the humanitarian situation in Syria, sought to negotiate the text in a transparent manner, engaging with all Council members in good faith.  The draft resolution is balanced, focused purely on the humanitarian situation while also acknowledging that counter-terrorism efforts must be undertaken in accordance with international humanitarian law.  The Council has a clear responsibility to fulfil today, as many lives are at stake.  While another initiative has been tabled with no prior negotiations among Council members — contravening Note 507 which requires timely and fully inclusive consultations on draft resolutions — he said its focus is different and fails to sufficiently reflect the situation in Idlib.  He urged all Council members to vote in favour of the draft humanitarian resolution.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation), Council President for September, speaking in his national capacity, said that, if it was true that the “humanitarian troika” was guided exclusively by humanitarian objectives, then his delegation would support its draft resolution.  Unfortunately, the goal of the text is to save international terrorists entrenched in Idlib from their final defeat.  Throughout the negotiations, the Russian Federation has had a difficult feeling about the text.  Improbable and unsubstantiated figures about mass movements of people are being thrown about, but no large-scale military operations are under way in Idlib, where the ceasefire announced on 31 August has been undermined by terrorists.  In taking its decisions, the Council cannot be guided by lies and misinformation, he said, calling it immoral to speculate about the lives of civilians held hostage by terrorists who have connections to Western colleagues on the Council.  From the outset, his delegation had warned the co‑sponsors that their resolution would to fail, yet they have put it to a vote.  He called on those delegations that want to see the situation resolved in Syria to reject the text.

The Council then failed to adopt the draft resolution by a vote of 12 in favour to 2 against (China, Russian Federation), with 1 abstention (Equatorial Guinea), owing to the negative vote of a permanent Council member.

Mr. HEUSGEN (Germany), speaking again for the penholders, said he was deeply disappointed about the result, as it represents the Council’s failure to protect the lives of 3 million people in Idlib.  Acting as honest brokers, the co‑sponsors tried to reach consensus on a focused text with clear humanitarian objectives.  A second initiative, which was placed before the Council after a non‑transparent process, would not yield the unity so direly needed.  He promised that the co-sponsors will not stop and that they will continue to address urgent humanitarian issues in Idlib and elsewhere in Syria.

KELLY CRAFT (United States) said her delegation voted in favour of the draft resolution, expressing deep regret that the Council could not agree on a text that would have saved lives in Idlib and held the Assad regime and the Russian Federation responsible for their vicious attacks on the Syrian people.  The Assad regime and its allies say they are carrying out counter-terrorism operations, but what is being seen are excuses to continue a violent military campaign against those who reject its authority.  The Russian Federation has demonstrated in the Council and on the battlefield that it has no interest in protecting civilians or forging a lasting ceasefire.  She also expressed disappointment that China decided to be complicit in those activities.

JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) said he voted in favour of the text, convinced of the overriding need to protect civilians.  Unfortunately, the draft outlining that imperative did not come to pass.  “It is impossible not to harbour a sense of failure having witnessed what we just witnessed,” he emphasized.  The draft managed to tackle the concerns of all Council members.  “It says that even measures against counter-terrorism needed to be implemented in accordance with international law,” he said, stressing the need to protect children going and the schools they attend.

JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) said the resolution presented by the co‑penholders focuses on protecting civilians, while the other tabled by the Russian Federation and China imperils them.  The former was a balanced text which rightly called for a lasting ceasefire and the protection of civilians.  “There is little time left to prevent the catastrophic worsening of the humanitarian situation,” he said, stressing that targeting civilians is a war crime.  Conversely, the Russian-Chinese text “pretends” that the humanitarian situation in Idlib is caused solely by terrorists rather than an indiscriminate military campaign.  “We have heard Russia’s explanation that they are striking at terrorists, but even if that is true, they still have a responsibility of proportionality,” he said.  That draft will be of no service to civilians and he appealed to the Council members to reject it.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), noting that his delegation supported the draft, expressed grave regret that it was not adopted.  He pressed the Council to undertake greater efforts to seek unity on “such a delicate measure to discharge the lofty responsibility placed on its soldiers”.

MARTHINUS VAN SHALKWYK (South Africa) condemned all human rights abuses, particularly those carried out against women, children and ethnic minorities.  He welcomed the initiative taken to produce today’s draft resolution, expressing concern over the politicization of the humanitarian situation in Syria and urging the Council to strictly focus on helping those caught up in the conflict.  South Africa’s concern for the dire humanitarian conditions outweighed its concern over some parts of the text, he clarified.

GBOLIÉ DÉSIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire), while expressing support for the fight against terrorism, underscored the need to respect international humanitarian law and the principle of proportionality.  Unfortunately, the Council is deeply divided and he expressed regret that none of the drafts tabled today enjoys consensus.  He reiterated calls for a greater dialogue towards that end.

NICOLAS DE RIVIÉRE (France) expressed regret over the lack of agreement on responding to the humanitarian crisis in Idlib.  He called on all Council members to exercise responsibility and to seek compromise.  “We must engage in a constructive dialogue,” he emphasized.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) expressed regret that the Council had failed to assume its responsibility.  History would remember that its failure to adopt a draft resolution on a humanitarian issue joins a litany of other failures in the Syrian dossier.  Use of the veto today means that millions of Syrians will remain in harm’s way.  The co-sponsors negotiated with transparency and included all Council members in discussions held over three weeks.  Conversely, the second text was tabled without negotiation, demonstrating the divisions on the Syrian dossier.  The failure to pass the draft resolution will not discourage efforts to protect civilians.

MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) said his delegation deeply regretted that certain Council members were unable to support the draft resolution.  From the outset, the three co-sponsors worked in a constructive and transparent manner, doing their utmost until the final day of negotiations.  Protecting human lives should be at the heart of any resolution on the situation in Idlib.  Underscoring Belgium’s determination to fight terrorism, he said counter-terrorism operations do not relieve parties from their obligations under international humanitarian law.  Bombarding civilians, schools and hospitals has nothing to do with fighting terrorism, but only creates fertile breeding grounds for more terrorism, he said.

ZHANG JUN (China), whose delegation voted against the text, said it was unconstructive to have put it to a vote.  The humanitarian situation in Syria was created by terrorist organizations attempting to spread their influence.  His delegation had proposed reasonable revisions, but the draft failed to touch upon the essence of the issue or to address China’s core concerns.  The complicated and sensitive humanitarian situation should be considered in a balanced way, without focusing on select issues.  The international community must fully respect Syria’s sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity, listen to the views of its Government and seek a solution through political means, while also paying attention to post-war reconstruction and economic development.  He encouraged the Council to support an alternative draft resolution, proposed by the Russian Federation and China, that addresses humanitarian and counter-terrorism issues in Syria in a comprehensive manner.  He firmly rejected groundless accusations made by representatives of the United Kingdom and the United States, stressing that China has the right to decide independently how it will vote in the Council.

Mr. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said that, unlike the first text, the draft resolution proposed by his delegation and China takes an exclusively humanitarian approach with no politicized passages.  It aims to continue the ceasefire in place in Idlib since 31 August.  It is ironic that the first party to violate that ceasefire was the United States through its air operations over Syria.  Syria and the Russian Federation are only conducting air strikes on terrorists, avoiding attacks that place civilians at risk.  Armed combat against terrorists in Syria is almost over and humanitarian issues must not be used for alternative aims.  He encouraged Council members to take a constructive approach and support the second draft resolution.

The Council then failed to adopt the draft resolution by a vote of 2 in favour (China, Russian Federation) to 9 against (Belgium, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Kuwait, Peru, Poland, United Kingdom, United States) with 4 abstentions (Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Indonesia, South Africa), having failed to obtain the required number of votes.

JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said her delegation could not support the draft as it missed important points regarding counter-terrorism and international humanitarian law.

MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia) said his delegation voted in favour of the first draft resolution, which contained critical elements for ending the suffering in Idlib.  Negotiations on that text had been lengthy and complex.  While Indonesia appreciated the efforts of the Russian Federation and China, their text was only presented yesterday and the potential for addressing the real situation on the ground was not fully explored.  He went on to caution against the politicization of humanitarian situations.

ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) said his delegation abstained on both resolutions to convey its frustration over the lack of consensus on such a vital issue.  It had hoped that negotiations on the first draft would have widened and deepened, and that geopolitical interests would have been cast aside for the good of civilians.

BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria) called it a “surreal farce” that three Western countries had drafted a biased and political draft resolution, rather than a humanitarian one.  However, the ink of their pen dries when it comes to war crimes, crimes committed by a United States-led coalition or an illegal foreign presence on Syria’s land.  They have also been silent for decades on the immunity provided to Israel’s occupying authorities.  While they say that combating terrorism necessitates respect for international humanitarian law, they are silent about dealing with those States producing terrorism.  History will remember today’s session as an attempt to embarrass the Russian Federation’s Council presidency.

He questioned how the penholders could take on their duties when they had not coordinated with Syria’s delegation, pointing out that both the Astana and Sochi agreements underscored Syria’s right to counter terrorism on its territory.  The penholders also disregarded the fact that there are thousands of foreign fighters in Syria.  Germany itself recently announced that there are 500 foreign terrorist fighters in the country and he asked how that country’s ambassador could neglect this information when presenting the draft resolution.

Turning to Kuwait, he presented an article and a poster as proof of Kuwait’s fundraising for fighters in Syria.  The penholders likewise have provided support to the fighters and participated in the systematic destruction of Syria’s vital infrastructure, affecting millions of people.  He asked how they could be keen to help civilians when they participated in unilateral economic measures that have caused their severe suffering.  He commended the Russian Federation and China for rejecting the draft, and those delegations who abstained for respecting the United Nations Charter.

Mr. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), taking the floor again, said Syria’s objective is clear:  to attack Kuwait and portray the crisis in Syria as a terrorist one.  Pointing out that the articles referenced were published in 2012 and 2013, he said Syria’s representative “likes in every meeting to repeat what has been published in newspapers”.  Kuwait has already responded to these assertions.  He encouraged Syria to present any new evidence — especially United Nations documents — so that all countries that have committed crimes on Syria’s territory can be held accountable.  He also encouraged Syria to present evidence to the Council’s sanctions committee and the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Persons Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011.

Mr. JA’AFARI (Syria) replied that he had simply wished to draw Kuwait’s attention to the existence of Kuwaiti national terrorists who are causing Syrian blood to spill on Syrian soil.  “I don’t understand why the Kuwaiti ambassador is so sensitive when there are terrorists from 100 countries present in Syria who are killing Syrian people,” he said, asserting that Syria has presented voluminous evidence on the presence of foreign terrorist fighters on its territory, and clarifying that there are both Syrian and foreign terrorists fighting against the Government.

Mr. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) invited Syria to implement Council resolutions on chemical weapons and political matters, including resolution 2254 (2015).  Regarding foreign terrorist fighters, he said Kuwait among other Member States have submitted a text to the General Assembly on that issue, calling for the repatriation of such combatants.

Mr. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) suggested that the discussion was being bogged down and that it should conclude.

Mr. JA’AFARI (Syria) said his country is a responsible State with robust intelligence services and institutions, as well as many documents that demonstrate the complicity of Gulf States in terrorism in Syria.  Its accusations are not based solely on press reports and it will cite its own information when the time comes.  “What we are suffering today is what you will suffer tomorrow and the day after,” he cautioned, adding that Syria has a sovereign right, enshrined in international law, to fight and defeat “monsters” from Europe and elsewhere.

For information media. Not an official record.