For 17th Time in 10 Years, Russia Vetoes UNSC Resolution, This Time to Protect Iran

Patrick Goodenough | February 27, 2018 | 4:35am EST
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Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vasily Nebenzya vetoes a U.K-drafted resolution voicing concern over Iran’s violations of U.N. sanctions on Yemen, in New York on Monday, February 26, 2018. (Screen capture: U.N. Webcast)

( – Russia on Monday vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution expressing concern over Iranian violations of U.N. sanctions on Yemen – just hours after the U.N.’s top human rights official appealed to the council’s permanent members to stop using their veto power to block measures that would reduce the suffering of innocent people.

It was the 17th veto cast by Russia over the past decade, 11 of which have been in support of the Assad regime in Syria. Over the same period China used its veto seven times and the United States twice.

The permanent council members (P5), Russia, China, Britain, France and the U.S., all enjoy veto power. The ten rotating members do not.

The measure voted on in New York on Monday had already been watered down by its main drafter, Britain, in a bid to avert a veto.

The text initially condemned Iran for violating an arms embargo on the Shi’ite Houthi militia in Yemen, but Russian objections saw it diluted to express concern that U.N. sanctions monitors had reported that Iran violated the embargo by failing to prevent missiles and drones from reaching the Houthis.

“We’ve sought to agree a text which provides a balanced and impartial assessment of the situation in Yemen, but which does not shy away from calling out those whose actions undermine international peace and security,” said British Ambassador Jonathan Allen before the vote.

But that, too, was unacceptable to Russia, whose ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, warned against “dangerous destabilizing ramifications” and voted “no,” killing the measure.

Fragments of ballistic missiles fired from Yemen and shot down in Saudi Arabia, including remnants of an Iranian Qiam-class missile, on display at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C. (Photo: DoD/E.J. Hersom)

The council then considered a Russian-drafted text that simply rolled over the Yemen sanctions for another year, with no reference to Iran. That measure was adopted unanimously.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said afterwards that the Russian veto “serves only to protect Iran’s efforts to destabilize the region and spread its malign influence.”

The Trump administration has made a priority of highlighting Iranian links to the costly conflict in Yemen, putting on display the debris of allegedly Iranian-supplies missiles which the Houthis have fired at targets in Saudi Arabia.

While Iran is backing the Houthis in the civil war Saudi Arabia, Iran’s chief regional rival, heads a military coalition carrying out a controversial airstrike campaign in support of Yemen’s internationally-recognized government in its fight against the Houthis.

‘Pernicious use of the veto’

In Geneva on Monday, the U.N.’s outgoing human rights commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, sharply criticized the way the P5 have exercised their veto power on occasion.

“Time and again, my office and I have brought to the attention of the international community violations of human rights which should have served as a trigger for preventive action,” he said in a speech to the Human Rights Council, which opened a month-long session.

“Time and again, there has been minimal action.”

Zeid did not cite specific votes, but said that whenever the veto is used to block unified action that could reduce extreme suffering, those responsible for the veto “must answer before the victims.”

“Second to those who are criminally responsible – those who kill and those who maim – the responsibility for the continuation of so much pain lies with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council,” he said.

“So long as the veto is used by them to block any unity of action, when it is needed the most, when it could reduce the extreme suffering of innocent people, then it is they – the permanent members – who must answer before the victims.”

Zeid noted that France has championed, and Britain is supporting, a “code of conduct” for use of the veto.

“It is time, for the love of mercy, that China, Russia and the United States, join them and end the pernicious use of the veto,” he said.

France in 2013 called for the P5 to “voluntarily and collectively undertake not to use the veto where a mass atrocity has been ascertained.”

A separate Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) initiative proposed a “code of conduct” calling on all members of the Security Council – elected and permanent – to undertake not to vote against any credible draft resolution intended to prevent or halt mass atrocities.

P5 members France and Britain are among the 113 U.N. member-states who support the ACT proposal.

Russia 17; China 7; US 2

Of the 17 Russian vetoes since 2008, 11 were cast to kill measures which Russia viewed as harmful to its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The seven-year civil war has cost more than half a million lives.

The other Russian “no” votes over the past decade:

--protected Iran in Monday’s vote on Yemen;

--blocked sanctions against the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe;

--vetoed extension of a U.N. observer mission’s mandate in Georgia, a year after Russia invaded the country to prop up pro-Moscow breakaway regions;

--killed a 2015 measure that would have condemned the 1995 Srebrenica massacre as a genocide, ahead of its 20th anniversary;

--stopped a resolution against a controversial referendum in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, which Russia subsequently annexed; and

--vetoed a resolution that would have created a tribunal to prosecute and punish those found responsible for the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner over separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine.

Of the seven China vetoes over the past decade, one blocked Zimbabwe sanctions and the other six related to the Assad regime in Syria.

The two U.S. vetoes over that period were the one last December blocking a resolution that sought to overturn President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; and one in 2011 stopping a measure condemning all Israeli settlements in disputed territory as illegal.

Neither Britain nor France have vetoed a resolution over the past decade.

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