The United Nations Security Council decided recently to vote on a resolution to ask Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down due to the escalating violence in his country over the past 11 months. Russia and China vetoed the resolution. If one of the permanent members (United States, China, Russia, United Kingdom and France) vetoes a resolution, it cannot be carried out.
Therefore, in a country like Syria, where, according to the UN, a little over 7,000 people have been killed since the beginning of the protests, there will be no international action taken because of the veto.
The Security Council is useless. It was built to “maintain international peace”, according to the first clause in the Security Council section of the UN Charter, something that clearly isn’t being done in Syria.
It is considered “illegal” in international law to intrude on another country’s sovereignty unless all five permanent members of the Security Council vote for it. This law has been ignored many times in the past.
“The U.S.A. has done it before, two examples being in Kosovo because they were afraid of a genocide, and the most recent one being in Iraq,” said Kyle Matthews, senior deputy director of the Will to Intervene Project at the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, and ex-UN diplomat.
The fact that international law within the UN is so lenient can be advantageous. However, it leads to a certain instability in international law, knowing that the law can be bypassed so easily without any serious consequences.
“It’s a seriously imperfect system,” said Matthews.
China, on the other hand, has vetoed resolutions many times before, notably against Burma, which is in desperate need of international intervention. “China has never been a great supporter of human rights, and didn’t want to get involved in Syria after they did in Libya,” said Matthews.
Other members of the Security Council reacted with disappointment after the decision was made not to intervene in Syria; U.S. ambassador Susan Rice said that she was “absolutely disgusted,” and that “any more bloodshed in Syria was on Russia’s and China’s hands,” according to the Huffington Post.
The reason for this particular Russian veto is fairly obvious when you know the facts concerning the long-standing relationship between Russia and Syria. Russia and Syria have been allies since the 1950s, despite some tense moments along the way. Syrian and Russian governments also share a distaste for the United States, another key reason for their alliance. There are, however, more important reasons.
“People don’t realize that about 98 per cent of weapons in Syria come from Russia,” said Matthews. “They’re Syria’s biggest weapons supplier, and they also have a massive naval base there.”
A veto against such an important weapons customer would mean millions of dollars in lost revenue for Russia.
Following the veto, Canada lodged an official complaint with Russia’s foreign ministry regarding the country’s weapons supply to Syria. People are dying day after day in Syria. They need international help, and because of the way the Security Council works, Syrians won’t be getting any for the time being.
“It is a sad day for this council, a sad day for all Syrians, and a sad day for democracy,” said French ambassador Gérard Araud to the Council.
Many other countries, where basic human rights are threatened, are being ignored because of greedy Security Council members who have important financial interests in those countries.
Members of the Security Council have a responsibility to protect all countries that are being torn by violence, and this isn’t being done.
The Responsibility to Protect, a United Nations initiative established in 2005, focuses on preventing crimes such as genocides and ethnic cleansing. Syrians are in dire need of protection and it’s up to the UNSC to vote responsibly―with their hearts, not with their wallets.