Russia/China Veto of U.N. Resolution on Syria Will Embolden Those Responsible for Violence

Press Release
July 19, 2012

Russia/China Veto of U.N. Resolution on Syria Will Embolden Those Responsible for Violence

Third Time Russia and China Have Failed to Act on Syria Crisis

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150, @strimel

(New York) -- Amnesty International said today that Russia and China's veto of the United Nations Security Council resolution on Syria is a shocking failure for human rights protections and will embolden those responsible for the crimes and violence wracking the country.

Thursday's resolution proposed that international envoy Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan be placed under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter. This would allow the Security Council to authorize a range of diplomatic and economic sanctions against the Syrian government should they fail to stop using heavy weapons and withdraw troops from towns and cities.

It was the third time Russia and China have used their veto power to block Security Council resolutions on Syria.

The veto comes a day after an attack that killed the Syrian Defense Minister, his deputy and the Assistant Vice-President in Damascus. There are also reports that a number of other senior officials have been critically injured, including the Interior Minister.

"With violence escalating across the country, including in the capital of Damascus, and with evidence that members of the Syrian security forces continue to commit crimes against humanity and war crimes, as well as mounting reports of abuses by the armed opposition, the U.N. Security Council had a crucial opportunity to not only renew the mandate of the U.N. mission in Syria but to improve and strengthen it," said Ann Harrison, deputy Middle East and North Africa program director at Amnesty International.

"But instead, Russia and China once again vetoed a resolution on the situation in Syria, thwarting Security Council action, and highlighting the inability of the Security Council's members to overcome political differences in the interests of the Syrian people."

Amnesty International has called on the Security Council to ensure that the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), whose mandate will expire on Friday, is renewed and strengthened by explicitly including an adequately staffed human rights component, providing the mission with sufficient expertise – including gender and children's rights experts – and other resources to document and report on crimes against humanity, war crimes and other grave human rights abuses committed by all sides.

"It is now imperative that the Security Council at the very least renews the mandate for the U.N. Mission in Syria," Harrison said. "Failure to do so will be widely interpreted to signify that the international community has once again abandoned Syrians. This is likely to make the human rights and humanitarian situation even worse."

Amnesty International has also repeatedly called on the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), to freeze the assets of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his associates and to impose an immediate arms embargo aimed at stopping the transfer of arms to the Syrian government.

In addition, Amnesty International calls upon governments considering the supply of arms to opposition fighters to first carry out a rigorous risk assessment based on objective information to ensure there is not a substantial risk those arms would be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of human rights, including crimes under international law. If there is a substantial risk of such violations, the transfer must not take place.

The organization has documented sustained human rights violations by Syria's security forces, amounting to crimes against humanity since March 2011. Amnesty International has also documented war crimes committed by the military since the situation developed into a non-international armed conflict.

Although most of the human rights abuses documented by Amnesty International have been committed by the state's security and armed forces, abuses have also been committed by armed opposition groups.

This includes the torture and killing of captured soldiers and members of the shabiha pro-government militias, as well as the abduction and killing of people known or suspected of supporting or working with the government and its security forces and militias.

"There is now a non-international armed conflict throughout Syria. This means all parties are legally bound by the rules of international humanitarian law," Harrison said. "They are prohibited from launching direct attacks on civilians and indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks. All parties must at all times treat anyone in their power, including captured fighters, humanely. And they are forbidden from using prohibited weapons. Those who carry out or order serious violations of international humanitarian law may be liable for prosecution for war crimes."

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.