Russia, China veto UN sanctions on Syria over gas attack accusations

China and Bolivia vote against the draft resolution to sanction the Syrian government over alleged use of chemical weapons, 28 February 2017, (c) AP

Russia and China have once again blocked a bid by Western powers for the United Nations Security Council to take action against the Bashar al-Assad government over accusations of chemical weapon use.

Russia voted against the resolution for the seventh time while China backed the Syrian government for a sixth against claims that government forces used chlorine in 2014 and 2015. The resolution, drafted by France, Britain and the United States, would “undermine” UN-led peace talks between the warring Syrian parties in Geneva, which began last week, Russia said.

Bolivia joined Russia and China in voting against the resolution, while abstentions from Egypt, Kazakhstan and Ethiopia meant only nine nations voted in favour. Commentators have repeatedly noted the political nature of the voting, with allied countries standing together.

An investigation by the UN and Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has reported that the government was responsible for three chlorine gas attacks in northwest Syria, south of Aleppo between April 2014 and March 2015. It also found that the Islamic State group had used mustard gas.

The Syrian government has denied all accusations and claimed opposition groups, which it views as ‘terrorists’ had used chemical weapons. The use of sarin gas in Ghouta in August 2013 is still a contentious topic with both government and opposition forces blaming each other for the death of at least 281 people.

“It is a sad day on the Security Council when members start making excuses for other member states killing their own people. The world is definitely a more dangerous place,” US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley said, following the voting.

Russian Deputy Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov responded by questioning the findings of the report OPCW-UN report, based on, he said, “suspicious” and “sympathetic” sources.

In a heated exchange he also told Haley, “God shall judge you and they will remain on your conscience, these statements.”

UN Ambassador Liu Jieyi weighed in saying: “[The draft resolution] was forced through to a vote while council members still had serious differences. This is no way helpful to finding a solution to issue of chemical weapons and peace talks in Geneva.”

If passed, the resolution would have condemned the use of chemical weapons, banned the sale or supply of certain chemical substances as well helicopters to the Syrian government. Travel bans and the freezing of the assets of 11 Syrian military commanders and officials, as well as on 10 government and related entities were also included in the draft document.