Russia and China in lonely opposition to UN resolution on Syria
RUSSIA and China were left isolated last night after voting against a United Nations resolution calling for an end to the violence in Syria.
The measure was passed at the UN General Assembly by 137 votes to 12, leaving Russia and China lined up with such pariah states as North Korea and Venezuela, as well as Syria itself. Another 17 countries abstained.
While the vote was non-binding, British diplomats hailed the wide margin of victory as a moral boost to the drive to put international pressure on Syria to stop the brutal crackdown which is estimated to have cost up to 7,000 lives.
Following the vote, William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, said in a statement: “President Assad and the Syrian regime must heed the call of the international community and allow a peaceful political transition to resolve the crisis.
“President Assad and those around him should be under no doubt that we will continue to support the Syrian people in their aspiration for a peaceful political transition in Syria.”
The negative votes by two permanent members of the UN Security Council cast doubt however on claims by France earlier in the day that Russia was prepared to sign up to a fresh international drive to solve the crisis.
Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s representative at the UN, told the gathering in New York that his country had been unable to back the General Assembly motion, which was co-sponsored by 72 nations, because it did not require the opposition in Syria to cease violence.
“Under these circumstances, the Russian Federation had no other option but to vote against,” he said.
China said it could not back the resolution because it effectively called for the departure of President Bashar al-Assad, which Beijing believes amounts to regime change.
Ahead of the vote, Bashar Ja’afari, Syria’s representative to the UN, claimed the resolution would only worsen the problem and lead to “more chaos and more crisis.”
There was disappointment among Western powers including Britain earlier this month when Russia and China vetoed an earlier UN Security Council resolution backing an Arab League proposal which would have required Assad to hand over power to his deputy.
But speaking ahead of yesterday’s Assembly vote, Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, held out hope that Russia would overcome its earlier objection to the Arab League plan.
Following talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, Mr Juppe said: “We can possibly reach a compromise on a short-term objective which is to end the massacres.
“We must do everything so that the violence ends and that a lot of humanitarian aid is given to the Syrian people.
“We are ready to work in New York on a draft resolution inspired by the Arab League to stop the violence and provide humanitarian aid.”
Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, stressed the urgency of the crisis, warning that crimes against humanity were taking place in Syria while diplomats continued to “debate”.
Calling on the Assad regime to stop the slaughter, he said: “We see neighbourhoods shelled indiscriminately, hospitals used as torture centres, children as young as 10 years old killed and abused. We see almost certainly crimes against humanity.”
“Lack of agreement in the Security Council does not give the government licence to continue its assault on its own people. The longer we debate the more people will die.”
Mr Ban said it was thought that as many as 25,000 people had fled Syria since the brutal crackdown on protests which began as peaceful last year, with an estimated 70,000 displaced within the country.
Meanwhile, Syrian forces continued to attack the rebel towns of Hama and Homs, extending their onslaught to Dera’a, on the Jordanian border.
In the capital of Damascus, security forces arrested a number of prominent critics, including blogger Razan Ghazzawi and rights activist Mazen Darwish.
Syria claimed that President Assad’s offer this week to hold a referendum on a new constitution followed by multi-party elections within 90 days showed that “interference” from the international community was not needed, in a pledge dismissed by the White House as “laughable”.