In a sad but predictably futile exercise, the United Nations Security Council once again tried and failed to pass a resolution regarding the crisis in Syria, this time calling for a 7-day ceasefire between Syrian rebels and the Syrian regime led by President Bashar al-Assad to allow humanitarian access to the embattled civilians of eastern Aleppo. Despite gaining 11 out of 15 votes in support, it was vetoed by Russia and China, both permanent veto-wielding members; voting with them was the temporary member from our hemisphere, Venezuela.
In the last few weeks the Syrian regime has launched an offensive, with Russian support, to retake eastern Aleppo, held by rebel forces for the past four years. Throughout the Syrian civil war, but especially as part of this most recent and ongoing campaign, hospitals and medical staff have been systematically targeted and destroyed, hundreds of civilians have been killed and more than 30,000 have fled the city, with food, water, medical supplies, and shelter running out for those that remain.
This week’s resolution was the sixth time in five years that Russia has vetoed a Security Council resolution calling for a halt to the violence to allow in humanitarian aid convoys. To bolster its ally Assad, Russia is undertaking a military offensive throughout Syria and including in Aleppo. It was never going to agree to a ceasefire. It views the campaign as a fight against terrorists on behalf of an ally and any break simply allows those “terrorists” breathing room to regroup and gain more arms. It had no incentive to agree to a ceasefire that would halt the momentum of President Assad, just as his military offensive was regaining territory in Syria’s second city.
Geopolitically, Russia and China were never going to agree to what they view as international intervention in the domestic matters of a sovereign government, especially an ally of Russia’s. Both have systematically vetoed any resolution that threatens their allies or generally impinges on the concept of national sovereignty. National sovereignty is the theory that a government’s survival is paramount, even at the expense of its people and their rights—a notion that has been in retreat after the horrors that preceded World War Two. Under this theory, though, rights are granted by the government to the people, rather than intrinsic to each and every person, and can be taken away when they threaten the government. The upshot is that the international community has no right to intervene in purely domestic affairs such as the relationship between a government and its own people.
So, it is no surprise that Russia or China, both firm believers in national sovereignty, would veto this resolution. What was also not shocking was that Venezuela joined them in voting against the resolution. While one could argue that the remaining votes of the Council members don’t actually matter once it is known that there will be a veto (Russia made it clear before the vote that they would veto), by joining Russia and China, Venezuela not only gave them diplomatic cover (Russia and China are both countries that claim to be global leaders and care about their international standing), it also demonstrated that Venezuela shares their dim, retrograde view of national sovereignty and human rights.
Luckily, Latin America is not only represented by Venezuela on the Security Council. Tiny but liberal Uruguay was also there, casting a vote in favor of a ceasefire to allow humanitarian access and escape for the trapped civilians.
Latin American citizens and governments value human rights more than Venezuela demonstrated with its vote. All that Venezuela truly revealed was that, despite holding one of the two Latin American seats on the Council, it does not deserve to be there on behalf of Latin America. The shame is that the region has allowed Venezuela to represent it, not only at the Security Council, but also on other bodies that determine human rights globally, including the United Nations Human Rights Council and the NGO Committee. For too long Venezuela, as the loudest in the region, has been allowed to distort the values of the region to suit the goals of the chavista government. It’s time for the mantle of regional leadership to be taken up by governments that not only represent their people but prioritize protecting civilians and human rights globally, even if that is at the expense of a sovereign government.