China, Russia snub UN Security Council talks on Syrian aid

Veto-wielding powers are no-shows at key meeting on resolution that hopes to impose sanctions on Syria if it does not improve access to humanitarian relief

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 February, 2014, 9:16am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 February, 2014, 9:18am

Russia and China on Monday rebuffed the United States, France, Britain and other states by failing to attend negotiations on a draft UN Security Council resolution to boost humanitarian aid access in Syria, diplomats said.

Australia, Luxembourg and Jordan on Thursday presented their draft to the five veto-wielding council powers and were due to meet with them on Monday, but Chinese ambassador Liu Jieyi and Russia’s UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, did not attend.

With Beijing’s support, Russia has shielded Syria on the UN Security Council during the country’s three-year-long civil war. The pair have vetoed three resolutions condemning the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and threatening it with possible sanctions.

This text is not going to be adopted, let me tell you
Vitaly Churkin, Russian envoy to the UN

The latest version of the draft aid text puts most of the blame for the humanitarian crisis on the Syrian government, and expresses an intent to impose non-military sanctions on individuals and entities obstructing humanitarian aid if certain demands in the resolution are not met within 15 days of its adoption.

A senior Chinese diplomat said he was unaware of a meeting on the draft resolution.

Churkin, meanwhile, was more direct, saying that a meeting had not been necessary because the text was “beyond redemption”. He said that Russia would veto the Western- and Arab-backed draft resolution if it was put to a vote: “This text is not going to be adopted, let me tell you.”

He suggested the move was designed to “whip up political tensions around Syria and this is not what we need now, especially in the context of the Geneva 2 negotiations and also for the purpose for the practical needs of the humanitarians.”

A second round of Syria peace talks – known as the Geneva II talks – got off to a shaky start on Monday, with the two sides complaining about violations of a local ceasefire and an Islamist offensive respectively in separate meetings with the international mediator.

Diplomats said the draft resolution on aid access was likely to be circulated among the remaining states on the 15-member council early on Tuesday and then negotiations would be held by the body by the afternoon.

“We’re still hoping [Russia and China] will engage,” one Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said earlier.

Churkin said Russia was discussing what action the Security Council could take instead to try to improve the humanitarian situation in Syria. While he did not rule out a future need for a resolution, he said Moscow did not believe such a move was necessary yet.

“If it’s something which is useful, which will not be regarded by people as simply provocative but is something which is really aimed at improving the humanitarian situation, then I think it cannot be ruled out,” he said.

The United Nations says some 9.3 million Syrians – nearly half the country’s population – need help, and UN aid chief Valerie Amos has repeatedly expressed frustration that violence and red tape are slowing the delivery of humanitarian assistance to a trickle.

Amos will brief the Security Council on Thursday on the difficulties of getting access to Syria’s neediest people. Diplomats said the draft was unlikely to go to a vote before then.

Western members of the Security Council have been considering a resolution on aid for almost a year. After months of talks, the council eventually adopted a non-binding statement on October 2 urging more access to aid.

[We express] outrage at the unacceptable and escalating level of violence and the death of over 136,000 people in Syria, including more than 11,000 children
Draft resolution

But that statement produced only a little administrative progress, such as visas for aid workers and clearance for convoys. No action has been taken on big issues such as the demilitarisation of schools and hospitals and access to besieged and hard-to-reach communities.

Amos welcomed a three-day extension of the initial three-day “humanitarian pause” in Homs. She said local authorities and representatives of all sides, working “in extremely dangerous circumstances”, have evacuated more than 800 people from Old Homs and brought food and medical supplies to people who have had little aid for nearly two years.

But Amos said “it is absolutely unacceptable” that UN and Syrian Red Crescent aid workers were targeted, and that 11 people lost their lives needlessly because the parties did not maintain their ceasefire during the initial pause.

The draft resolution expresses “outrage at the unacceptable and escalating level of violence and the death of over 136,000 people in Syria, including more than 11,000 children”.

The UN says that well over 100,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war. The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said that more than 136,000 have been killed since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011.

With additional reporting from AP