UNITED NATIONS — Russia and China joined forces Tuesday to veto a draft UN Security Council resolution that would have slapped sanctions on the government of Syria for using chemical weapons in its six-year civil war.
The two permanent members of the Security Council have used the veto to block up to six other resolutions proposed since war broke out in Syria in March 2011, but the measure also generated a “no” vote from Bolivia while Kazakhstan, Egypt and Ethiopia abstained.
The nine other members of the Security Council, which include permanent members France, the United Kingdom and the United States and nonpermanent members Italy, Japan, Senegal, Sweden, Ukraine and Uruguay, voted for the measure. It was drafted amid fresh concerns of Syria’s use of chemical weapons.
A special panel called the Joint Investigative Mechanism — and the advocacy group Human Rights Watch — have over the past year documented the use of chemical weapons, particularly chlorine gas, by Syria and rebels including the Islamic State group in several instances.
In response to the defeat of the resolution, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, rebuked Russia and China, who have sided with Syrian President Bashar Assad throughout the conflict. Since the outbreak of war, Russia has vetoed seven resolutions and China has vetoed six.
“Russia and China made an outrageous and indefensible choice today,” she said. “They refused to hold Bashar al-Assad’s regime accountable for the use of chemical weapons. They turned away from defenseless men, women and children who died gasping for breath when Assad’s forces dropped their poisonous gas. They ignored the facts. They put their friends in the Assad regime ahead of our global security.”
France’s ambassador, Francois Delattre, said, “These criminal acts continue today, as we speak. We need to put an end to this — right now.”
But Russia’s ambassador, Vladimir Safronkov, shot back that the accusations against his country and China were out of line and that the resolution’s co-sponsors put forth the document to justify ousting Assad from power. It is on that basis — that Security Council actions could legalize military regime change in Syria — that Russia has vetoed previous resolutions.
Safronkov explained that when the draft resolution was circulated in December, Russia had questioned the validity of the JIM’s conclusions that Syria had launched the attacks, adding that the fact that the resolution was not endorsed by six of the 15 Security Council members showed a lack of resolve in the council.
“From the point of view of enforcement, JIM’s conclusions contain no convincing evidence upon the basis of which any sort of allegations could be made,” he said.
The Joint Investigative Mechanism, which is an expert panel formed by the UN and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said in August that between 2014 and 2015, it discovered “sufficient evidence” of three cases of chemical weapons use including two chlorine gas attacks by Syria and the use of “sulphur-mustard” gas by ISIS, UN officials said. The JIM reported in October that it had confirmed another attack by Syria.
The deadlock over the resolution in Manhattan comes as the UN struggles to make progress in ending the war at a new round of talks in Geneva.
Staffan de Mistura, who is UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ special envoy, convened talks again last week, nearly a year after the negotiations were derailed by intensive fighting and a worsening humanitarian crisis on the ground in Syria.