With Russia’s support clearing the way, the UN Security Council on Saturday adopted the first legally binding resolution calling for increased access for humanitarian aid in Syria and threatening unspecified punitive action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
The 15-member council voted unanimously for the proposal by Australia, Jordan and Luxembourg.
With the support of China, Russia previously used its veto power to block three similar resolutions on Syria, its main Middle East ally and weapons buyer. Beijing also voted in favor of Saturday’s resolution.
The resolution comes near the third anniversary of the Syrian civil war that began on the heels of peaceful protests in early 2011. The document obliges the warring Syrian parties to guarantee humanitarian aid access; end the sieges of Damascus, Aleppo and Homs; and cease shelling and aerial attacks against civilians — demands backed by a pledge to respond to noncompliance with “further steps.”
UN officials have expressed frustration with the deadlock in the council, with more than 130,000 Syrians killed so far in the conflict.
“This resolution should not have been necessary,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the council after the vote. “Humanitarian assistance is not something to be negotiated; it is something to be allowed by virtue of international law.”
Negotiations on the resolution began on Feb. 6, with Russia objecting to the intent to impose unspecified military and economic sanctions, as well as to a referral to the International Criminal Court in the event of noncompliance. The final version was watered down, with the threat of consequences only described as “further steps.”
Ban will be required to report on implementation of the resolution every 30 days and depending on his assessment of progress, the council may take the further steps, according to the resolution text.
Russia supported the resolution after its proposed amendments were added to make it more “balanced,” Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin said.
While the US is “not naive,” given the “abysmal” track record of UN efforts to deal with Syria, Russia’s support for shows new unity toward the situation, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said.
“It’s not like the fairies come out of the sky and the angels descend, and suddenly implementation happens,” she said. “It happens because those of us who have leverage on various parties on the ground use that leverage.”