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When China and Russia use the veto

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Western mainstream media is tearing into the two countries which used their vetoes to stop a United Nations Security Council resolution on Syria. In the views of China and Russia, the draft resolution was hasty, would have ended all consultation, and would instead have provided the means to begin the ‘regime change’ cycle of destabilisation and war that have marked several countries in the Middle East region over the last decade.

Within minutes of the draft resolution being blocked by China and Russia, western TV channels and press media lashed out viciously against the governments of both countries. Several news agencies linked the escalation of violence in the city of Homs to the vetos, cynically twisting the reasons for the vetoes into neglect of the civilian toll of the unrest in Syria – “amid reports of a brutal crackdown, Russia and China prevented action being taken” was the general tone of such agencies, UPI amongst them.

Television channels in the USA immediately ran sound-bites by Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, saying that it had not been possible to work with Russia on a UN resolution “backed by the West and the Arab League” which basically wanted Syrian President Bashar Assad to quit, or face the consequences (the same consequences witnessed by other government heads in the Middle East during a year of uprisings). Since these consequences are directed by the USA, Britain, a few NATO countries and endprsed by Americam allies in the Arabian Peninsula, it is not in any way representative of what the ‘West’ likes to call the ‘international community’. Childishly, the US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice told ABC media that her country was “disgusted” by the vetos. However, Clinton was reported as forecasting bloodshed and civil war in Syria as an outcome.

The human rights organisation Amnesty International, whose apporach on the matter has become openly political in favour of the US government line, chose to moralise its discontent by complaining that the vetos are “a betrayal of protesters” and that the “UN Security Council has remained virtually silent on the violent repression in Syria since March 2011. This is a completely irresponsible use of the veto by Russia and China. It is staggering that they have blocked the passage…” etc etc. The news magazine Time turned to tabloid tactics with a headline: “Reports of Hundreds Killed in Homs, While Diplomats Fiddle” and fulminated that the draft resolution backed the Arab League’s call for Assad to step aside (indeed, in favour of what variety of puppet?). “On Saturday, Russia and China vetoed a watered down resolution, shielding their stalwart ally,” screeched Time.

Sober reporting on the vetos came from the Chinese media. CRI English reported that China on Saturday had voiced its regrets that Russia’s “reasonable” revision proposal on a Syria draft resolution was not taken into account. The news channel said that Li Baodong, the Chinese permanent representative to the UN, made the statement after he, together with his Russian counterpart Vitaly Churkin, vetoed an Arab-European draft resolution which backs an Arab League plan to promote a regime change in Syria.

“To push through a vote when parties are still seriously divided over the issue will not help maintain the unity and authority of the Security Council, or help resolve the issue,” Li said. “China supports the revision proposals raised by Russia, and has taken note that Russian Foreign Minister (Sergei Lavrov) will visit Syria next week,” Li said. “The request for continued consultation on the draft by some council members is reasonable. It is regrettable that these reasonable concerns are not taken into account,” he said.

In similar manner, Xinhua reported that Russia and China voiced their strong opposition to forced regime change in Syria. Xinhua said Russia warned some countries against meddling in the internal affairs of Syria, saying that the international community should prevent a replay of the Libya model, in which NATO military action help topple the regime of Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi. Hours before the Security Council entered into a scheduled meeting on Saturday, with Western powers pushing for a council vote on the draft, Russia insisted that the document be amended.

Xinhua quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov: “We circulated an amended resolution which aims to fix two basic problems …(first), the imposition of conditions on dialogue, and second, measures must be taken to influence not only the government but also armed groups.” Lavrov had said this at a panel discussion at the Munich Security Conference, adding that these two issues are “of crucial importance” from the view of Russia.

At the UN, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed “deep regret”. The UN press briefing mentioned the crisis in Syria, “where thousands of people have been killed over the past year since authorities crackdown on a pro-democracy uprising”. Thirteen of the Council’s 15 members voted in favour of a draft text submitted by Morocco, the UN release said, but China and Russia exercised their vetoes (a veto by any one of the Council’s five permanent members means a resolution cannot be adopted).

“This is a great disappointment to the people of Syria and the Middle East, and to all supporters of democracy and human rights,” Ban said in a statement. “It undermines the role of the United Nations and the international community in this period when the Syrian authorities must hear a unified voice calling for an immediate end to its violence against the Syrian people.”

The UN release did provide the views of the Russian Ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, who said the text as it stood “sent an unbalanced signal to the Syrian parties,” with no call on the Syrian opposition to distance itself from extremist groups. He said a solution to the Syrian crisis must be “objective” and said some Council members had actively undermined opportunities for a settlement and pressed for “regime change.”

Churkin said Russia was actively involved in diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis and, to that end, the country”s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov would lead a delegation to the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Tuesday for talks with President Bashar al-Assad. China’s Ambassador Li Baodong voiced disappointment that the draft resolution did not incorporate amendments proposed by Russia, which China supported. He said an “undue emphasis” on pressuring Syria”s authorities would prejudice the result of dialogue and only complicate the issue rather than ending the fighting. He said the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Syria must be fully respected.

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Is the resolution on Libya legal under international law?

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Is the UN Security Council decision concerning the Libya ‘no fly zone’ in alignment with the Charter it is governed by?

A brief examination of this and related questions concerning the UN Security Council decision:

Under the United Nations Charter, the functions and powers of the Security Council are:

* to maintain international peace and security in accordance with the principles and purposes of the United Nations;
* to investigate any dispute or situation which might lead to international friction;
* to recommend methods of adjusting such disputes or the terms of settlement;
* to formulate plans for the establishment of a system to regulate armaments;
* to determine the existence of a threat to the peace or act of aggression and to recommend what action should be taken;
* to call on Members to apply economic sanctions and other measures not involving the use of force to prevent or stop aggression;
* to take military action against an aggressor;
* to recommend the admission of new Members;
* to exercise the trusteeship functions of the United Nations in “strategic areas”;
* to recommend to the General Assembly the appointment of the Secretary-General and, together with the Assembly, to elect the Judges of the International Court of Justice.

When adopting resolution 1973(2011) did the Security Council members exhaust all the steps listed under their functions and powers, before the step “to take military action”?

How does authorizing the enforcement of a ‘no fly zone’ by military means “maintain international peace and security in accordance with the principles and purposes of the United Nations”? What investigation of a dispute in Libya or the situation in Libya was done by the UN Security Council in the weeks before 2011 March 17? Did the UNSC recommend dispute resolutions or settlement methods prior to 2011 March 17 – if so what were they and who were they reported to? Did the UNSC call on UN Members to apply “measures not involving the use of force” such as economic sanctions? If the UNSC members did none of the above – where are their reports to the UN General Assembly and to their national governments? – why did they move directly to taking military action?

This what was done on 2011 March 17:

Adopting resolution 1973 (2011) by a vote of 10 in favour to none against, with 5 abstentions…

Who are the members of the UN Security Council?

The Council is composed of five permanent members: China, France, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States. There are ten (10) non-permanent members (with year of term’s end): Bosnia and Herzegovina (2011), Germany (2012), Portugal (2012), Brazil (2011), India (2012), South Africa (2012), Colombia (2012), Lebanon (2011), Gabon (2011), Nigeria (2011).

How did they vote on the Libya ‘no fly zone’ resolution?

The five abstentions were Brazil, China, Germany, India, Russian Federation – that is, two permanent members of the Security Council abstained.

Why did these members abstain?

[This text is from the UN press release] “The representative of the United States said that today, the Council had responded to the Libyan peoples’ cry for help.  The Council’s purpose was clear: to protect Libyan civilians.  The Security Council had authorized the use of force, including enforcement of a no-fly zone, to protect civilians and civilian areas targeted by Colonel Muammar Al-Qadhafi, his allied forces and mercenaries.”

“The representatives of China and the Russian Federation, explaining their abstentions, prioritized peaceful means of resolving the conflict and said that many questions had not been answered in regard to provisions of the resolution, including, as the Russian representative put it, how and by whom the measures would be enforced and what the limits of the engagement would be.  He said the resolution included a sorely needed ceasefire, which he had called for earlier.  China had not blocked the action with a negative vote in consideration of the wishes of the Arab League and the African Union, its representative said.”

“The delegations of India, Germany and Brazil, having also abstained, equally stressed the need for peaceful resolution of the conflict and warned against unintended consequences of armed intervention.”

With reference to the US representative’s explanation, what exactly was the “cry for help”, who voiced it, how is it representative of the people of Libya, and in what way did this “cry for help” reach the UN General Assembly?

The General Assembly is the main deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the United Nations. Comprising all 192 Members of the United Nations,

The Libyan Arab Jamahiriya is a member of the UN General Assembly and was admitted on 14-12-1955.

How do Members of the UNSC vote?

This is covered in Chapter VII of the UN Charter

[Rule 40] Voting in the Security Council shall be in accordance with the relevant Articles of the Charter and of the Statute of the International Court of Justice

What does the UN Charter say about the Security Council?

This is covered in Chapter V of the Charter. The composition of the Council is covered by Article 23, which also says: “…due regard being specially paid, in the first instance to the contribution of Members of the United Nations to the maintenance of international peace and security …”

The functions and powers of the Security Council are covered in Article 24 of the Charter which also says: “In order to ensure prompt and effective action by the United Nations, its Members confer on the Security Council primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security…”

What is the significance of the 10 votes for the Libya resolution?

Voting is covered in Article 27 of the UN Charter:

“1. Each member of the Security Council shall have one vote.

2. Decisions of the Security Council on procedural matters shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members.”

This brief background raises questions that must be asked by the representative of the Government of India in the UN. Most important, the UN Charter insists first on the maintenance of international peace and security. This principle has been ignored by the 10 members who voted for the resolution. The functions and powers of the UNSC place military action as following several others – resolution, settlement, economic. The 10 members who voted have violated the procedure. All 15 members have not explained why other measures – including an objective analysis (see India’s member’s explanation in Annex) – were not followed up by them before agreeing to take up the Libya resolution 1973(2011).

Referencess:

Security Council Approves ‘No-Fly Zone’ over Libya, Authorizing ‘All Necessary Measures’ to Protect Civilians, by Vote of 10 in Favour with 5 Abstentions (2011 March 17)

Charter of the United Nations

Annexure:

India’s Explanation of Vote after the vote on Libyan Resolution in the UN Security Council delivered by Ambassador Manjeev Singh Puri, Deputy Permanent Representative, on 17 March 2011

1. India has been following with serious concern the developments in Libya, which have led to loss of numerous lives and injuries to many more. We are very concerned with the welfare of the civilian population and foreigners in Libya. We deplore the use of force, which is totally unacceptable, and must not be resorted to.

2. The UN Secretary-General has appointed a Special Envoy, who has just visited Libya. We support his appointment and welcome his mission. We have not had the benefit of his report or even a report from the Secretariat on his assessment as yet. This would have given us an objective analysis of the situation on ground. The African Union is also sending a High Level Panel to Libya to make serious efforts for a peaceful end to the crisis there. We must stress the importance of political efforts, including those of the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, to address the situation.

3. The resolution that the Council has adopted today authorizes far reaching measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter with relatively little credible information on the situation on the ground in Libya. We also do not have clarity about details of enforcement measures, including who and with what assets will participate and how these measures will be exactly carried out. It is, of course, very important that there is full respect for sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Libya.

4. Mr President, the financial measures that are proposed in the resolution could impact, directly or through indirect routes, ongoing trade and investment activities of a number of member-states thereby adversely affecting the economic interests of the Libyan people and others dependent on these trade and economic ties. Moreover, we had to ensure that the measures will mitigate and not exacerbate an already difficult situation for the people of Libya. Clarity in the resolution on any spill-over affects of these measures would have been very important.

5. Mr President, we have abstained on the resolution in view of the above. I would like to re-emphasize that India continues to be gravely concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Libya and calls on the Libyan authorities to cease fire, protect the civilian population and address the legitimate demands of the Libyan people.

I thank you.

Written by makanaka

March 21, 2011 at 18:56