Russia blocks UN investigation of chemical attacks in Syria
by Daily Sabah with Wires
ISTANBULSep 04, 2015 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Daily Sabah with Wires
Sep 04, 2015 12:00 am
Russia is holding up Security Council approval to establish a new international body to assign blame for chemical attacks in Syria's deadly conflict for the first time. Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who holds the council presidency in September, told reporters Wednesday that Russia had questions about the proposal by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. He also raised the possibility that the council might need a new resolution to deal with allegations that the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) extremist group has used chemical weapons including mustard gas in neighboring Iraq.
The Syrian government denies using chemical weapons but the United States and other Western nations contend Syria's government is to blame, especially for barrel bombs containing chlorine and other toxic agents dropped by helicopters, since the opposition doesn't have aircraft.
Ban sent a letter to the council last Thursday recommending the establishment of a three-member independent panel backed by experts with the freedom to go anywhere in Syria to identify those responsible for using chlorine and other chemical weapons so perpetrators can be brought to justice. The council was supposed to respond in five days. Churkin said Russia wants the clarifications it was given by the U.N. Secretariat to its concerns to be put in writing "so that everybody has the same kind of understanding of what is going to happen in the work" of the so-called Joint Implementation Mechanism. He said one example was Ban's call for voluntary contributions to fund the new body and Russia's concern that contributions could influence the "impartiality" of the new body. He said "some good explanations were given about how the money is going to be spent."
Last month, the council unanimously approved a resolution giving a green light to establish an international investigative body to determine responsibility for chemical attacks that have killed and injured a growing number of civilians over the past two years and to go to suspect sites in government and opposition controlled areas. But council members also need to sign off on Ban's plan for the new body.
Reports have also surfaced in recent months that ISIS, which controls a third of Syria and Iraq, has used toxic chemicals. Churkin said Russia knows that the group has been "actively working" in this direction, including "using the services of some foreign experts to try to produce chemicals which can be used as a weapon."
He said Russia is very concerned about reports that ISIS militants may be using toxic chemicals in both countries, and has been discussing the reports with the Iraqi government which is taking them seriously and "looking into it themselves." In the case of Syria "the Security Council has played an important role in dealing with this problem," Churkin said, but in the case of Iraq Russia believes the council may need to adopt a new resolution at some point.
However, Russia's representative has not mentioned the war crimes, committed by the Syrian regime as Moscow has been supporting Bashar Assad since the beginning of the war. U.N. has been criticized by several rights groups and some country leader, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for being ineffective to find solution for conflicts as well as assigning blame on perpetrators.
Along with Russia, Iran also ardently supports the regime through giving weapons, sending troops and making financial aid, according to the Syrian opposition. A senior Iranian official yesterday repeated Tehran's support for Assad and said he had pivotal role to play in the war on ‘terrorism' and in resolving Syria's devastating four-year conflict. Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said after meeting with Assad on Thursday that any "successful" attempt to find a solution should take into consideration the right of the Syrian people to shape their future.
The U.N. was criticized by its own staff as well. The U.N. Security Council has a duty to prosecute crimes against humanity in Syria where violence has been further escalating in recent months, a panel of U.N. rights investigators said Thursday. "Civilians are suffering the unimaginable, as the world stands witness," the Commission of Inquiry on Syria said in its latest report. "It is the responsibility of the warring parties and influential States to seek peace, and the particular obligation of the Security Council, in the context of the war in the Syrian Arab Republic, to open a path to justice," the commission said.
The Syrian civil war entered its fifth year five months ago and has caused the deaths of more than 200,000 people with at least 60,000 missing. The war has also displaced nearly 10 million people. About 13.6 million people, equivalent to the population of London, have been displaced by conflicts in Syria and Iraq, many without food or shelter, the U.N. refugee agency revealed. The 13.6 million include 7.2 million displaced within Syria – an increase from a long-held U.N. estimate of 6.5 million – as well as 3.3 million Syrian refugees abroad, 1.9 million displaced in Iraq and 190,000 who have left to seek safety. The vast majority of Syrian refugees have fled to Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey. Western countries have been frequently criticized by aid agencies and the U.N. for not opening their borders to Syrian refugees, as the most developed countries have received the least number of refugees.