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Russia vetoes extension of Syria gas attacks probe

The US, its allies and human rights groups have termed Russia’s 10th veto a serious blow to the efforts of the Joint Investigation Mechanism (JIM), whose operations ceased when its current mandate expired at midnight of Thursday.

The US draft resolution, which was supported by 11 of the 15 Security Council members, was vetoed by Russia as China and Egypt abstained while Bolivia joined Russia. “Russia has killed the Joint Investigative Mechanism, which has overwhelming support of this Council,” the US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said at the UN headquarters in New York.

“By eliminating our ability to identify the attackers, Russia has undermined our ability to deter future attacks. Assad and ISIS will no longer be on notice for the use of chemical weapons by Russia’s actions on Friday. The message to anyone listening is clear: in effect, Russia accepts the use of chemical weapons in Syria,” Haley said. She further said that regardless of what its Russian protectors do here in the Security Council, the Assad regime should be on clear notice: “the United States does not accept Syria’s use of chemical weapons.”

Haley said that as the US did in April, it will do it again if it must. “We will defend the international standard against chemical weapons use. It would be wise for the Assad regime to heed this warning,” she added. Slamming Russia, she said, “What a shame it is that Russia has revealed itself to be a government whose allegiance is to the Syrian regime, not the truth or the protection of innocent civilians.” Russia may have succeeded in silencing one independent voice in Syria today, but there are others who will carry on this work, Haley added. Francois Delattre of France expressed alarm at the wielding of the veto by the Russian Federation. The Mechanism had worked with professionalism and tenacity, seeking the truth in Syria, providing clear, well- documented truth proving the culpability of the Assad regime in certain attacks and that of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Daesh) in other attacks, he said.

British Ambassador to the UN Matthew Rycroft also said that the JIM is a panel created by the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to monitor whether Syria is upholding a treaty that bans their use. Both the Syrian government and militants of the Islamic State are being blamed for using chemical weapons in the war that grew out of protests in 2011. “It is Russia that has failed. They have failed in their duties as a permanent member of this Security Council, they have failed as a state party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, they have failed as a supposed supporter of peace in Syria,” he said.

In a statement, Human Rights Watch said Russia has entered the realm of double digits with its tenth veto on Syria since 2011, sending another shameful message that they will protect the Syrian government at the cost of the Syrian people. “UN member states should insist on continued investigations into chemical attacks so perpetrators can be held to account,” said Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch. The Russian Ambassador Vassily A Nebenzia said his country had been unable to support the draft resolution drawn up by the US, but it is not true that his delegation had not engaged in communications in that regard.

Over the course of several weeks, it had explained that it could not take the proposal seriously, because it was erroneous from the outset and geared towards entrenching the Mechanism’s flaws. The statement by the US delegate had not focused on the Mechanism, but instead on the Russian Federation, he alleged.

Russia has been highly critical of the JIM’s findings that the Syrian government used chlorine gas in at least two attacks in 2014 and 2015. It also used sarin in an aerial attack on Khan Sheikhoun last April 4 that killed about 100 people and affected about 200 others who survived the nerve agent.

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