Russia has again vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution to renew an investigation into identifying the perpetrators of a deadly chemical weapons attack in Syria.
Last Friday, the United Nations Security Council failed to adopt a resolution that would have renewed the mandate of an international panel investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria, due to a negative vote from Russia. Permanent members of the Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) can keep a resolution from being adopted by voting to veto any measure put forth. This was the third time in two days that the resolution had been brought to a vote. China and Egypt abstained from voting, with Bolivia also voting against the drafted resolution.
The failure to renew the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) for another 30 days means that as of Friday at midnight, the investigative body ceased operations looking into the perpetrators of the Syrian gas attacks.
The most recent attack occurred on April 4, 2017 and injured hundreds of civilians in the Syrian province of Idlib. The regime of Bashar al-Assad denied any involvement in this attack, and Russia claimed that they did not have any warplanes in the area at the time of the attack. However, evidence strongly pointed to the Assad government being responsible for the attack; the US retaliated with the launch of 59 Tomahawk missiles at the airfield they believed the chemical attack was launched from. The United States Treasury Department also reacted immediately with record-breaking sanctions against Syrian scientists and other government officials involved in Syria’s chemical weapons program.
The first proposal to extend the JIM’s mandate was drafted by the US and would have extended the team’s work for a year. After this failed to be passed, Japan also drafted a proposal that was vetoed by Russia. Russia had also drafted a proposal that would have changed the JIM; this only garnered four votes and could not be passed.
This marks the 11th time that Russia has used its veto powers to block the council from taking action against Syria.
“Russia will not agree to any mechanism that might shine a spotlight on the use of chemical weapons by its ally, the Syrian regime,” US Ambassador Nikki Haley told the Security Council after the last vote. “It’s as simple and shameful as that.”
The JIM had been established in 2015 by the council to identify “to the greatest extent feasible individuals, entities, groups, or governments perpetrating, organizing, sponsoring, or otherwise involved in the use of chemicals as weapons in Syria.” According to Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, “Any extension of the JIM’s mandate for us is possible only provided fundamental flaws in its work are rectified.”
He had also accused JIM leadership of disgracing itself by conducting a “fictitious investigation.” Ambassador Haley retorted after the Russian veto: “Russia has killed the investigative mechanism, which has the overwhelming support of this council. To my Russian friends, the next chemical weapons attack is on your head. You are basically telling the entire world that chemical weapons are OK to use. That’s what we should be embarrassed about today.”
France’s UN Ambassador Francois Delattre may have said it best when he stated, “Let there be no doubt: We have unleashed a monster here.”