Explanation of Vote by Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, On the Security Council Vote on Syria

Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations 
New York, NY, United States
May 22, 2014


Thank you. Today is about accountability for crimes so extensive, so deadly, that they have few equals in modern history. Today is about accountability for Syria. But it is also about accountability for this Security Council.

It is this Council’s responsibility to stop atrocities if we can and – at a minimum – to ensure that the perpetrators of atrocities are held accountable. It was toward that minimum that we sought to make progress today. My government applauds the vast majority of members of this Council who voted to support – and the some 64 countries who joined us in co-sponsoring – this effort to refer these atrocities to the International Criminal Court.

Sadly, because of the decision by the Russian Federation to back the Syrian regime no matter what it does, the Syrian people will not see justice today. They will see crime, but not punishment.

On April 15th, the members of this Council were briefed on a report that included 55,000 gruesome photos of the emaciated and tortured bodies of dead Syrians, who world-renowned international lawyers concluded had been methodically eliminated by a government killing machine. The pictures were reportedly provided by an individual – alias “Caesar” – who worked for 13 years as part of the Syrian military police. When the fighting began, he says that he was instructed to record the images of people starved, beaten, tortured, and executed by Syria’s security forces.

These photos shock and horrify, even after some of us wondered if there was anything the regime could do that would still shock. Syrian soldiers already had compelled doctors not to care for the wounded, dragged patients out of hospital beds, laid siege to whole neighborhoods, cut off access to desperately-needed supplies, and carried out chemical weapons attacks and barrel bomb attacks with the full confidence that meaningful action by this Council would be obstructed.

A judicial process does more than hold perpetrators accountable. It also allows victims to speak. The vetoes today have prevented the victims of atrocities from testifying at The Hague for now. But nonetheless it is important for us here today to hear the kind of testimony we might have heard if Russia and China had not raised their hands to oppose accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Because of the vetoes just cast, one of Assad’s victims, Qusai Zakariya, will not soon be called to testify before the International Criminal Court. But Qusai’s story of life in Moadamiya during the siege, as hard as it is to hear, must be heard. Qusai Zakariya is here with us today, and I’d like to ask him to stand.

Today I will tell Qusai’s story, as he told it to us. Qusai’s home, Moadamiya, just outside of Damascus, was one of the Assad regime's prime targets. During the August 2013 chemical weapons attacks, Quasi ran out to the street and tried to help his neighbors. He quickly lost his ability to breathe. His eyes afire, Qusai’s heart stopped and he was left for dead until a friend stumbled upon him and realized he had again begun breathing. Qusai recounts his bewilderment as he watched neighbors suffocate, friends panic, and families perish. He remembers the face of a 13 year old boy just a few feet from his home. He describes the boy as “so innocent.” He recalls, “He had done nothing.” Yet the expression on this 13 year old’s face was the most terrifying thing Qusai has ever seen, as white foam streamed from his mouth and death crept in.

If Qusai could testify, he might tell the story of his neighbor, Abu Mohammed, a waiter in Damascus while his wife and daughter lived in Moadamiya. Abu Mohammed’s daughter was 7 years old. She had a heart condition that required medication not available in besieged Moadamiya. So Abu Mohammed did what any father would do and attempted to bring her medicine from Damascus. He was captured by Assad’s mercenaries, tortured with acid, and ultimately killed. His body was thrown on Highway 40. And without medicine to treat her heart condition, Abu Mohammed’s 7 year old daughter died.

Qusai might also tell the story of Rana, an 18 month old baby girl. Rana’s dad ran a grocery store before the siege. After the siege, he watched as his daughter Rana died from malnutrition because she couldn’t get milk that used to sit on his store’s shelves.

Qusai has said that when he walks around the United States, he notices people in restaurants, getting on with day to day life. He notices the small leftovers we leave on our plates. And he remembers watching his neighbors desperation to get a small piece of rotten bread in Moadamiya.

Qusai’s account of his experiences in Moadamiya deserves to be heard. It deserves to be examined by an independent court. And if crimes are proven, those responsible deserve to be held accountable. The vetoes cast today prevent that from happening. Strikingly, the vetoes cast today also protect monstrous terrorist organizations operating in Syria. Those who would behead civilians and attack religious minorities will not soon be held accountable at the ICC either. For Russia and China’s vetoes today protect not only Assad and his henchmen, but also the radical Islamic terrorists who are pursuing a fundamentalist assault on the Syrian people that knows no decency or humanity. These vetoes have aided impunity not just for Assad, but for terrorist groups as well.

In the past, when extraordinary crimes have been carried out, the International Criminal Court has been able to act. Why is it that the people of Uganda, Darfur, Libya, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, and Kenya deserve international, impartial justice, but the Syrian people do not? Why should the International Criminal Court pursue accountability for atrocities in Africa but none in Syria where the worst horrors of our time are being perpetrated? For those who have asked the Security Council this very reasonable question, today you have your answer: the Russian and Chinese vetoes.

Our grandchildren will ask us years from now how we could have failed to bring justice to people living in hell on earth. The history books may well depict photos taken by “Caesar” of emaciated, acid-scarred corpses juxtaposed next to a photo of the two members of this Council who prevented justice for victims like Qusai who long to see the end of such horrors.

Today is therefore about accountability, not just for the victims of Assad’s regime, not just for Qusai and his neighbors in Moadamiya, but for the members of this Security Council. Month after month, and year after year, we have each spoken about the importance of justice and the need for accountability in Syria. Victims and survivors have begged for action and cried for justice. The international community has supported ad hoc efforts to collect evidence, to record testimony. We’ve launched commissions of inquiry to find facts, and we’ve held meeting after meeting. But we have not, before today, brought forward a resolution to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. We have not done so because we were afraid that it would be vetoed.

But the victims of the Assad regimes’ industrial killing machine and the victims of terrorist attacks deserve more than to have more dead counted. They deserve to have each of us, the members of this Security Council, counted and held to account. They deserve to have history record those who stood with them, and those who were willing to raise their hands to deny them a chance at justice. While there may be no ICC accountability today for the horrific crimes being carried out against the Syrian people, there should be accountability for those members of this Council that have prevented accountability.

Now, the representatives from Syria, and perhaps Russia, may suggest that the resolution voted on today was biased. And I agree – it was biased in the direction of establishing facts; tilted, as well, in the direction of peace – the peace that comes from holding individuals – not whole groups, not “Allawites,” not “Sunni,” not “Kurds,” but individuals – accountable.

The outcome of today’s vote, disappointing as it is, will not end our pursuit of justice. My government will continue to work with so many other governments and organizations to encourage and facilitate the further gathering of evidence. There is no limit to our determination to see that the victims of atrocities in Syria, and their loved ones, receive answers in accordance with the majesty of law. In this quest, we will be guided by a fundamental principle of civilization, a principle that has truly stood the test of time. And I quote: “Those who are not wronged, no less than those who are wronged, must exert themselves to punish the wrongdoers,” end quote. So said Solon, the Athenian sage, more than 2500 years ago; and so affirmed the overwhelming majority of this Council today.

Thank you.


PRN: 2014/117