China and Russia yesterday vetoed a draft UN Security Council resolution to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court for crimes committed by both sides in the three-year civil war.
Western powers pressed for the resolution in the face of mounting atrocities in Syria, including chemical attacks, systematic torture, barrel bombings and blocked aid access.
It was the fourth time China and Russia had blocked Western resolutions on the conflict, paralysing Security Council efforts to end a war estimated to have killed more than 160,000 people.
The 13 other members of the council voted in favour and Western powers rounded on China and Russia for protecting not just the Syrian regime but also opposition "terrorist groups".
The text, drawn up by France, was sponsored by 60 countries. Syria is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court so only the Security Council can decide whether to refer war crimes or crimes against humanity on its territory to the court.
Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin on Wednesday dismissed the French initiative as a "publicity stunt".
Western diplomats said China is embarrassed but was reluctant to oppose Russia again after abstaining from a resolution denouncing the separatist referendum in Crimea in March.
London-based rights group Amnesty International accused China and Russia of displaying "chilling disregard" for victims in Syria.