It was a rare show of unity among world powers who back opposite sides in Syria’s brutal civil war.
UNITED NATIONS – In a hard-fought show of unity among world powers, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Saturday to order warring parties in Syria to stop blocking the delivery of humanitarian aid, though with no immediate prospect of punishment for those who disobey.
The resolution was the first binding measure to be approved by the divided Security Council in a conflict that began nearly three years ago and has killed more than 100,000 and left a trail of polio and starvation. The measure calls on the Syrian government to allow relief agencies to enter the country, criticizes the dropping of barrel bombs by government aircraft and strongly condemns terror attacks, plainly referring to some of the rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad.
Until the moment of the vote, it was unclear whether Syria’s principal ally, Russia, would approve it. The Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, ended the suspense at 11 a.m. as he entered the chambers.
“Of course we’re going to support it,” Churkin said. “It’s a pretty good resolution.”
The adoption of the resolution was made possible, diplomats said, by important concessions. It contains no specific enforcement language, saying only that the council will keep tabs on all sides and meet later to decide whether to punish them. Russia would have vetoed any specific threat of sanctions, diplomats said.
It also contains no threat to take those suspected of committing war crimes to the International Criminal Court, a move Russia and the United States are apparently conflicted about. It says only that the parties in the conflict could be guilty of such crimes.
As for sanctions, the measure leaves that fight for another day by stating “its intent to take further steps in the case of noncompliance with this resolution.”
The final product does contain specific references to the Syrian government, which its critics in the West, including the United States, insisted on. It expresses, for instance, “grave alarm at the significant and rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Syria, in particular the dire situation of hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in besieged areas.”
It also expresses concern for “the dire situation of over 3 million people in hard-to-reach areas,” and deplores the difficulties in enabling humanitarian assistance to all civilians.
In a nod to Russian demands, the resolution “strongly” condemns the “increased terrorist attacks resulting in numerous casualties and destruction carried out by organizations and individuals associated with Al-Qaida, its affiliates and other terrorist groups.”
In several places, there are specific, pointed references to the government’s singular role in blocking aid.
One section reads that the resolution “demands that all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, promptly allow rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access for U.N. humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners.”
Russia has vetoed three resolutions pertaining to Syria in three years. It initially dismissed the need for this one, too, saying that it preferred to let the warring parties on the ground agree to local cease-fires, one by one, so as to let in food and medicine.
Russia had said all along that it would not support a resolution that was “ideological,” though in truth, all Security Council decisions are political by nature.
The measure received support in recent weeks from stronger statements by U.N. officials. In her briefing to the council in mid-February, the U.N. humanitarian relief chief, Valerie Amos, named several communities that were trapped behind conflict lines, pointing to the culpability of the government.
On Wednesday, the U.N. human rights chief, Navi Pillay, cited cases of starvation deaths in towns beyond the reach of food and medicine.