Russia and China have vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution referring the Syrian crisis to the International Criminal Court for investigation of possible war crimes.
The draft resolution received 13 votes in favor, had 65 co-sponsors among U.N. member states and the support of more than 100 nongovernmental organizations.
The move on Thursday was the fourth time Russia and China blocked UN Security Council action on Syria. Moscow is a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, accused the Russians of providing diplomatic protection to the Syrian government "no matter what it does".
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was appalled by the Russian and Chinese veto.
In a statment published after the vote he said the countries would have to justify "why they are continuing to shield those responsible for the most horrific atrocities," the Reuters news agency reported.
Dozens of countries backed the French-drafted resolution in a move to demand a path to justice in the conflict, which has entered its fourth year.
Prior to the vote, Russia\’s ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, told reporters that his country\’s vote would be "boringly predictable" and dismissed the resolution as a "publicity stunt".
Speaking after the vote, Churkin said his country shared the "emotions" of the countries who supported the bill but questioned whether France was using the bill as a pretext for armed intervention.
France’s envoy called the accusation an “absurdity.”
France drafted the resolution. Ambassador Gérard Araud urged council members ahead of the vote to support it, saying it was a moral act, not a political gesture.
“In the face of this denial of values represented by this organization, nothing is worse than silence, because silence is acquiescence, it is consent, it is complicity,” he said.
Syria’s U.N. ambassador circulated a letter to diplomats this week asking them not to support the draft resolution, saying the language was “biased” and “politicized.”
The Syrian Coalition, which supported the draft, condemned the double veto. Coalition representative Najib Ghadbian said in a statement that Russia has “aided and abetted Syria’s war machine” through its provision of weapons and now was ensuring that crimes committed with those weapons would go unpunished.
The resolution would have referred Syria\’s crisis to the world\’s permanent war crimes tribunal in The Hague without targeting either the government or the opposition.
Before the vote, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson pleaded with council members to find unity and "put an end to this long nightmare", the AP news agency reported.
The council has previously referred the situations in both the Darfur region of Sudan and in Libya to the International Criminal Court. The court deals only with crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.
Without the council’s authorization, Syria’s case will not be referred to the ICC. Cases can only go to the court if the council refers them or if the country in question is a party to the treaty that created the court. Syria is not a party.
Government forces have broken a year-long rebel siege of a prison in Syria\’s northern city of Aleppo, reports say.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said troops had entered the complex, but this is not confirmed.
There are thousands of inmates at the prison, which has been the scene of fierce fighting for months as rebels have tried to capture it.
The area is strategically important as it lies near a key supply route for fighters in rebel-held parts of Aleppo.
On Wednesday, some 60,000 people in the rebel- and government-held parts of Aleppo province received food aid for the first time in months after the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was granted access.
The conflict has killed more than 162,000 people and displaced some nine million people.