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Russia, China block Syria from facing International Criminal Court

By CNN Staff
updated 8:10 AM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Head of chemical weapons watchdog urges swift removal of final Syrian stockpile
  • Russia's U.N. ambassador says the resolution was an attempt to inflame the crisis
  • Action would have referred war crimes in Syria to the International Criminal Court
  • Russia backs Syria "no matter what it does," U.S. ambassador to United Nations says

(CNN) -- Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution Thursday that would have asked the International Criminal Court to investigate war crimes in Syria.

They were the only two of 15 countries to vote against the resolution.

The move came as no surprise. Throughout the conflict in Syria, Russia and China -- both permanent council members -- have repeatedly used their veto power to block resolutions tough on the Syrian regime.

The United States and other countries slammed the action Thursday.

"Because of the decision of the Russian Federation to back the Syrian regime no matter what it does, the Syrian people will not see justice today. They will see crime but not punishment," Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the council after the vote.

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"The vetoes today have prevented the victims of atrocities from testifying at the Hague for now, but nonetheless it is important for us here today to hear the kind of testimony we might have heard if Russia and China not raised their hands to oppose accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity," Power said.

She then pointed to someone in the audience, Qusay Zakarya, whom she identified as a victim of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. She told his stories of nearly dying in violence by the Syrian regime.

Mark Lyall Grant, the UK ambassador to the United Nations, said it was "to Russia and China's shame that they have chosen to block efforts to achieve justice for the Syrian people."

The resolution, which was also backed by scores of co-sponsors and nongovernmental organizations, could have offered the Syrian people an end to impunity and been "a vital element of a sustainable peace," he said.

However, Russia's U.N. envoy, Vitaly Churkin, defended his country's move, saying that the timing was wrong and that international efforts should focus on finding a political solution to the crisis, not stirring it up.

"What justice can one talk about when the overriding policy aims at escalating the conflict?" he said in his remarks to the council. "The draft resolution rejected today reveals an attempt to use the ICC to further inflame the political passions and lay the groundwork for eventual outside military intervention."

Churkin cited a previous Security Council resolution on the destruction of the Syrian chemical stockpile as a positive example of what could be done by council members, and said the latest step had dealt a blow to that unity.

Chemical weapons mission

The head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is working with the United Nations to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons program, called Thursday for the country's remaining declared chemicals to be removed without delay.

About 100 metric tons of chemicals, or nearly 8% of Syria's declared stockpile, remain at a single site, said the group's director-general, Ahmet Uzumcu, but the Syrian government said these cannot be moved because of the security situation.

An OPCW mission is also preparing to investigate allegations that chlorine gas has been used in attacks in Syria, Uzumcu said, according to an OPCW statement.

The Syrian government has said it will provide security in areas under its control, he said, but some sites are not controlled by the government, adding to the dangers of the mission.

"The alleged use of chlorine in Syria is of grave concern to the OPCW and the international community," he said. "All efforts should be made, by all parties to the conflict, to enable safe access for our team enabling it to conduct its important work."

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said that France has seen indications the Syrian regime used chlorine gas some 14 times in recent months.

But Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al Mekdad denied any use of chlorine gas by the government in a CNN interview last week in Damascus.

The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 203 people were killed in violence in Syria on Wednesday.

They included 72 from government forces and militias aligned with them, and 95 people from the ranks of the Syrian rebels and Islamist groups, the opposition group said.

Most of the deaths resulted from ongoing clashes near the central prison in Aleppo.

READ: Death and desecration in Syria: Jihadist group 'crucifies' bodies to send message

READ: Evacuation truce in key Syrian city of Homs goes into effect

READ: Syrians return to Homs to see what war left them

CNN's Richard Roth and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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