Why No Vetoed Resolutions on Civilian Killings in Gaza?
As the civil war in Syria continues into its fourth year, the Western nations sitting on the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) have unsuccessfully tried to condemn the killings of civilians, impose punitive sanctions and accuse the Syrian government of war crimes – in four vetoed and failed resolutions.
The United States, France and Britain forced a vote on all four resolutions despite implicit threats by China and Russia, allies of beleaguered Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to exercise their vetoes. And they did.
All five countries are veto-wielding permanent members of the UNSC.
The vetoes drew strong condemnations from human rights groups, including a coalition of eight non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which described the last veto by Russia and China as “a shameful illustration of why voluntary restraint on the use of the veto in mass atrocity situations is essential to the Council’s ability to live up to the U.N. charter’s expectations.”
But the question now looming large over the United Nations is why China and Russia aren’t initiating a new draft resolution condemning the aerial bombardments of civilians in Gaza, demanding a no-fly zone and accusing Israelis of war crimes.
Such a resolution is certain to be vetoed by one, or all three, of the Western powers in the UNSC, as China and Russia did on the resolutions against Syria. But this time around, it will be the Western powers on the defensive, trying to protect the interests of a country accused of civilian killings and war crimes.
Still, an Asian diplomat told IPS that even if a draft resolution is doomed to be shot down during closed-door informals for lack of nine votes, an attempt could have been made to expose the mood of the UNSC – just as Western nations keep piling up resolutions against Syria even when they are conscious of the fact they will be vetoed by Russia and China, embarrassing both countries.
Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco, told IPS just as the Russians and Chinese have blocked Security Council action regarding Syria’s attacks on civilians in crowded urban areas, the United States has successfully blocked Security Council action regarding Israeli attacks on civilians in crowded urban areas.
Though both involve serious violations of international humanitarian law, precedent would dictate that U.N. action on Israel’s assault on Gaza would be even more appropriate because it is an international conflict rather than a civil war, said Zunes, who has written extensively on the politics of the Security Council.
“What is hard to explain is why the Security Council has not been willing to force the United States to take the embarrassing step of actually vetoing the measure, as it has on four occasions with Russia and China in regard to Syria,” he asked.
Ian Williams, a longstanding U.N. correspondent and senior analyst at Foreign Policy in Focus, told IPS the UNSC is determined to prove that governments do not have principles, only interests.
Since the end of the Cold War, the Palestinians have had no sponsors or patrons.
He said even the Russians and the Chinese weigh the strength of the Israel Lobby in the U.S., and increasingly in Europe, and calculate whether it is in their interests to alienate Washington even more.
Since they see few tangible diplomatic, economic or political benefits from backing the Palestinians, let alone Hamas, they allow atrocities to go unchecked in Gaza while raising their hands in horror about lesser, and less calculated, crimes elsewhere, said Williams.
“And the Russians would have to explain why they defend Assad for similar behaviour against his own people,” he added.
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