On 12 April 2017, the Security Council rejected a draft resolution that would have condemned the reported chemical weapons attack on the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun and expressed its determination to hold the perpetrators accountable.
The following is a UN report for information media and is not an official record.
Defeated by 10 votes in favour, to 2 against (Bolivia, Russian Federation), with 3 abstentions (China, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan), the draft would have emphasized Syria’s obligation to comply with the recommendations of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapon’s (OPCW) Fact Finding Mission and the OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism by providing immediate and unfettered access to and the right to inspect any and all sites.
Tabled by France, the United Kingdom and the United States, it would have requested the Secretary-General to report on the issue every 30 days pursuant to resolution 2118 (2013), in which the Council had decided that, among other things, Syria would not use, develop, produce, acquire, stockpile or retain chemical weapons.
Before the action, the Russian Federation’s delegate, saying the draft failed to serve a useful purpose, requested that an independent investigation be launched immediately on the incident in Khan Shaykhun.
Following the vote, speakers agreed on the need for a swift, impartial investigation and for perpetrators to be held accountable for the reported chemical attacks. Ethiopia’s speaker expressed regret over the disunity in the Council, emphasizing that Council members had agreed on the thrust of the text.
Many speakers echoed that regret. The Council’s inability to act had sent a message that perpetrators could “get away with murder”, said Ukraine’s delegate. “Today, I feel ashamed. This vote was a credibility test for the Council and we have not passed it.”
The representative of the United States, whose country holds the Council presidency for April, said in her national capacity that the text had included information that was obvious: that Bashar al-Assad’s regime must provide access to sites. If the Assad regime was innocent, the information in the text would have vindicated it. Having voted for the eighth time against a resolution on Syria, the Russian Federation was further isolating itself.
Speakers also agreed that only a political solution could end the Syrian conflict.
Syria’s representative rejected any use of chemical weapons and all weapons of mass destruction, emphasizing that his country wanted to learn the truth more than anyone else. In its cooperation with the OPCW, Syria had requested that investigations be launched in Khan Shaykhun and the Shayrat air base.
He rejected the draft resolution because it contained sly political language that had wanted the investigation to accuse in advance the Government of Syria. Whoever read the text would understand that truth was not its true goal. Facts had been doctored and evidence fabricated against the Syrian Government, which, for its part, had sent 90 letters to OPCW about terrorist groups’ involvement with chemical weapons and other arms. He called on Council members to be rational and to obtain clear responses with regard to the Khan Shaykhun incident.
Also speaking today were representatives of the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Japan, China, Sweden, Bolivia, Kazakhstan, Senegal and Uruguay.
The meeting began at 3:15 p.m. and ended at 4:32 p.m.
MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom), presenting the draft resolution on behalf of France and the United States, described the events of 4 April as “the worst of human acts”, saying that the suffering of the victims demanded that the Council act. The text condemned those events, expressed the Council’s support for the Fact-Finding Mission and the Joint Investigative Mechanism, emphasized the need for full access to relevant sites and recalled Syria’s obligation to cooperate. It was the minimum required response from the Council, he said, urging all members to vote in favour.
VLADIMIR K. SAFRONKOV (Russian Federation) said that, in the course of negotiations between his country’s Foreign Minister the Secretary of State of the United States, the Russian Federation had suggested a joint communication asking the OPCW Director-General immediately to put together an international mission to visit Khan Shaykhun and the Shayrat air base. The Secretary of State was considering that proposal, he said, adding that the whole gamut of issues would be discussed by OPCW on 13 April at The Hague. Putting the draft to a vote would serve no useful purpose, he emphasized.
Following a vote of 10 in favour to 2 against (Bolivia, Russian Federation), with 3 abstentions (China, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan), the draft resolution was rejected after the Russian Federation cast a negative vote.
Mr. RYCROFT (United Kingdom) pointed out that while the Russian Federation’s Minister for Foreign Affairs had called for an investigation, its representative on the Council had vetoed a draft resolution that would have supported such a mission. Moscow’s message was “confused”, he said, emphasizing that the regime in Syria would be held to account, regardless of veto.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) expressed disappointment at the outcome of the vote on a “simple and balanced” text, saying the Council had once again failed to live up to its responsibilities. France would not resign itself to the impudence that some wished to impose on the Council, nor would it accept impunity. Sooner or later, those responsible would answer for their crimes, he said.
AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) expressed dismay that the Council had failed to adopt the text, while emphasizing that the failure to adopt it must not affect the objectives of the Joint Investigative Mechanism, which had a clear mandate set out in a Council resolution. He called upon all parties to cooperate fully with international mechanisms, in accordance with Council resolutions, for the sake of justice, saying that was the least that the Council owed the Syrian people amid the great polarization dividing its members.
SEBASTIANO CARDI (Italy) said his delegation had voted in favour to express outrage at the use of chemical weapons and urge a rapid investigation. Emphasizing the essential importance of fighting impunity, he said war crimes would continue to be committed until it ended.
KORO BESSHO (Japan) said the vote must not affect the Council’s position on the use of chemical weapons as it shouldered its responsibility to find those responsible for the attack.
LIU JIEYI (China) said the draft resolution contained language that his delegation supported, including condemnation of the use of chemical weapons, adding that China supported a political solution to the conflict.
Mr. SAFRONKOV (Russian Federation) said his delegation had voted against the draft because of its “erroneous” contents, emphasizing that his country’s concerns and priorities had been pushed aside. The main problem was that the “troika” of drafters had named a perpetrator before a proper investigation had been conducted, he said, adding that by presenting a “doomed” resolution they had undermined the Council’s unity. If partners thought it necessary to adopt a meaningful resolution and agree upon a valid document, they should have aimed to ensure the OPCW’s ability to conduct an impartial investigation, he said, pointing out that in the eight days since the incident, no steps had been taken to investigate. A full and immediate inquiry must be undertaken, he stressed, adding that Damascus had displayed a readiness to cooperate and had proposed the immediate launch of an investigation. Some States had expressed an anti-regime slant and a reluctance to ensure a truly impartial investigation, he said, cautioning that other incidents, involving extremists, could unfold.
TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia), urging the Council to remain united, expressed regret that it had been unable to respond to the reported use of chemical weapons in Syria. No one disagreed with the thrust of the draft, which was to investigate reports of a grave violation of international law, but in failing to adopt the text, the Council had lost an opportunity to send a powerful message on the use of chemical weapons.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) deplored the Russian Federation’s further use of its veto power to block a resolution on Syria. The Council must come together to ensure that those responsible for the horrendous attack were held accountable, he said, adding that it must act in a united manner once the Joint Investigative Mechanism issued its report.
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia), condemning the use of chemical weapons, emphasized the need for an independent and thorough investigation into recent events in Syria. Bolivia had voted against the draft because the Council should not be used as a sounding board for war-related propaganda and interventionism, he said. Noting that some Council members had been excluded from negotiations on the text, he said the vote’s outcome had been known in advance. What was the point of the exercise? he asked, questioning whether the Council was a pawn in the negotiations between the Russian Federation and the United States. Were the sponsors acting for the benefit of the Syrian people or for their own political and military ends?
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) said there was no solution to the conflict other than a political one, and condemned the use of chemical weapons. The Council should preserve its unity at such a critical stage, he said, expressing Kazakhstan’s readiness to work on a compromise text.
FODÉ SECK (Senegal), explaining that his delegation had supported the draft because its aim was to determine the truth through a transparent, unbiased and impartial investigation, appealed for a spirit of consensus.
ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay), noting that truth was the first victim of war, emphasized that the truth about Khan Shaykhun must be established through a broad and impartial investigation. Referring to George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, he said that in the Council “some animals are more equal than others”, which left many members without any choice but to choose the least-worst option.
VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) said his delegation had voted in favour because the incident must be investigated. “Today, I feel ashamed,” he said. “This vote was a credibility test for the Council and we have not passed it.” The inability to act had sent a message to perpetrators that they could “get away with murder”.
NIKKI HALEY (United States), Council President for April, speaking in her national capacity, said the Russian Federation had said “no” to a text that would have promoted peace in Syria. Having voted against a text on Syria for the eighth time, the Russian Federation was isolating itself, she said, adding that Moscow had a lot to prove. To Syria, she said the United States was watching the regime’s actions. “Your excuses will no longer be heard,” she added. “I suggest you heed this warning.”
BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria), reiterating that Syrians were victims of armed groups that had not hesitated to use chemical weapons, said the Government was keen to determine who had used them. It had made unprecedented commitments that had ended its chemical programme “in record time”, he recalled. In its ongoing cooperation with the OPCW, Syria had requested that investigations be launched in Khan Shaykhun and at the Shayrat air base in order to ascertain, among other things, whether sarin gas had been stockpiled there, he said, noting that Nusrah Front controlled Khan Shaykhun. Syria wanted the truth more than anyone, he stressed. Rejecting the text’s “sly political language” seeking to accuse the Government of Syria in advance, he said that whoever read it would understand that truth was not its true goal. Facts had been doctored and evidence fabricated against the Government, which, for its part, had sent 90 letters to the OPCW about the involvement of terrorist groups with chemical weapons. Urging the Council to be rational and obtain clear responses, he cited examples of questionable evidence, pointing out that all photographs of the Khan Shaykhun incident had come from organizations supporting the armed groups. The “White Helmets” had worked with the United Kingdom intelligence service, he added. For its part, Syria continued to heed all its OPCW obligations, he emphasized.