A Veto to Ponder

Did the Security Council’s vote on sanctions for Syria’s chemical weapons attacks promote accountability or impunity?

 

 

On February 28, Russia and China vetoed their first United Nations Security Council resolution during the Trump administration—torpedoing a British-, French-, and U.S.-led effort to impose targeted sanctions in response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons. The decision to put the resolution to a vote despite Russia’s veto threat illustrated not only the practical obstacles to broadening cooperation with Russia over Syria, but also the challenges to achieving accountability for the Syrian regime’s continuing chemical weapons attacks.

 

Since the Joint Investigative Mechanism implemented by the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons attributed responsibility for three chemical weapons attacks to the Syrian armed forces (and one to the Islamic State) in two reports last year, many have rightly called for those involved to be held accountable. The proposed Security Council resolution (UN document S/2017/172) would have been a big step in the right direction, sanctioning 21 Syrian regime-related individuals and entities associated with chemical weapons—including the commander and deputy commander of Syria’s 63rd Helicopter Brigade, which the Joint Investigative Mechanism linked to the airbases from which chemical strikes were launched. Specifically, the resolution would have required all UN member states to freeze the targets’ assets, prevent future transfers of assets to them, and deny the targets entry into their territory—the same sanctions to which the Islamic State is already subject.

 

If the resolution had been adopted, it would have sent a message more powerful than the sanctions themselves: that using chemical weapons is so far beyond the pale that it could forge unity among Security Council members otherwise so sharply divided over Syria. But because of the veto, the vote instead risks sending the opposite message: that having an ally among the five permanent members of the Security Council guarantees impunity, even for using chemical weapons.

 

So did this Security Council vote promote accountability or impunity? At the very least, the targets can no longer live in anonymity. In the words of the former U.S. permanent representative to the UN, Samantha Power, these individuals are now infamous. But whether they face more tangible consequences depends on what happens next.

 

If the Security Council vote is the prelude to national sanctions designations on the same targets by a range of countries, the answer will be accountability. The United States has already sanctioned all of the resolution’s targets; most have already been sanctioned by the European Union as well. But will other countries with major stakes in international non-proliferation norms—such as Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Ukraine, and the Gulf states—step up to impose their own sanctions? How about potential travel destinations and asset havens such as Switzerland, Norway, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand?

 

Designations by these countries would send a powerful message that responsible members of the international community will not allow a veto to guarantee impunity. The international community’s silence would send an equally powerful, albeit contrary, message.

 

Read more from the source article published by the Carnegie Middle East Center  Mar. 8 2017

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