General Assembly: 69th Plenary Meeting, 76th Session

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26-Apr-2022 03:14:11
General Assembly adopts landmark resolution aimed at holding five permanent Security Council members accountable for use of veto.

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Amid growing criticism of inaction by the Security Council on the war in Ukraine, the General Assembly adopted a landmark resolution today aimed at holding the five permanent Council members accountable for their use of veto.

By the text (document A/77/L.52), which was adopted without a vote, the Assembly decided that its President shall convene a formal meeting of the 193‑member organ within 10 working days of the casting of a veto by one or more permanent members of the Council and hold a debate on the situation as to which the veto was cast, provided that the Assembly does not meet in an emergency special session on the same situation.

Further, the Assembly invited the Council, in accordance with Article 24 (3) of the Charter of the United Nations, to submit a special report on the use of the veto in question, to the Assembly at least 72 hours before the relevant discussion is to take place.

The text, titled “Standing mandate for a General Assembly debate when a veto is cast in the Security Council”, was tabled by Lichtenstein, and co-sponsored by 83 Member States, including three permanent Council members — France, United Kingdom and the United States. Two other permanent Council members are China and the Russian Federation.

Speaking in the explanation of position, delegations expressed divergent views of the resolution.

The representative of the Russian Federation said the veto is not the problem. Rather, it is the unwillingness of certain Security Council members to listen to others and to achieve compromise, which compels use of the measure. The veto is a measure of last resort, and when using it, permanent Council members provide exhaustive and openly accessible clarification as to why it was cast. Providing the same explanation to the General Assembly would not add value. He rejected today’s attempt to create an instrument to exert pressure on the Council, stressing that the division of powers between the Assembly and the Council has allowed the United Nations to function effectively for more than 75 years.

Bolstering that point, the representative of Belarus said that, instead of trying to determine why consensus in the Council remains elusive, today’s resolution “simply relies on brute force”. He accused the sponsors of garnering a majority in the General Assembly to use “all kinds of tricks”.

To those claims, the United States delegate pointed out that the Russian Federation vetoed a resolution deploring its own aggression against Ukraine. In short, Moscow egregiously violated the Charter and then blocked the Council’s effort to address the situation. The veto was not intended as a carte blanche for impunity nor meant to confer automatic protection from accountability in perpetuity.

Mexico’s representative defended today’s resolution as an important step forward in strengthening United Nations accountability. Veto use reveals the weak position of those who failed to persuade others through reason. Those wielding such power do not offer solutions, but simply obstruct action. Mexico, as a founding member of the United Nations, opposed this prerogative at the 1945 San Francisco Conference. Its decision to accept a veto was based on the principle of responsible use of that power, he noted.

Along those lines, the representative of France said her delegation is fully committed to reforming the Council into a body that is more representative of today's world, while preserving its executive and operational nature. However, the General Assembly cannot become a judge of the Security Council or of its members — elected or permanent — and it is in this spirit that France and Mexico introduced a proposal to voluntarily and collectively suspend use of the veto in the event of mass atrocity crimes.

Sweden’s delegate, speaking also for Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway, was among the many speakers expressing unequivocal support the resolution aimed at raising the cost of veto use by the five permanent Council members. In the past five years, the veto blocked Council action 17 times. Noting that the Council is entrusted with the responsibility to maintain peace and security on behalf the Member States represented in the Assembly, she argued that it is natural that, when permanent Council members use their veto to block action, they are invited to explain their positions in the Assembly and engage with Member States on the matter.

The representative of Namibia, speaking for the African Union Committee of Ten Heads of State and Government, said his delegation attaches great importance to Security Council reform to make it more accessible, accountable, democratic, representative and effective, and to better reflect the current geopolitical reality. Welcoming the preambular paragraph stating, “the present resolution and its provisions are without prejudice to the intergovernmental negotiations on Security Council reform”, he said the text has no bearing on General Assembly decision 62/557, adopted in 2008, and the common African position, as articulated in the Ezulwini Consensus and Sirte Declaration.

Capturing some of the uncertainty around today’s action, China’s representative said the resolution gives the General Assembly a new mandate and is likely to cause procedural confusion and inconsistency in practice. It is difficult to determine, at this time, if such an arrangement would serve the resolution’s intended purpose.

Similarly, Indonesia’s delegate, while joining consensus on the resolution, voiced his regret that efforts to improve transparency of the Security Council was conducted through a non-inclusive and untransparent process. He denounced the “take‑it‑or‑leave‑it” approach imposed during its drafting, a process that lacked any room for negotiation.

Offering historical perspective, India’s representative recalled that in 2008, the Assembly unanimously agreed that all five aspects of Council reform — including veto use — would be decided in a comprehensive manner, and that no single cluster could be addressed in isolation. Yet, when a group of pro-reform Member States, including India, moved a similar initiative nearly a decade ago, they were accused of promoting a piecemeal approach. It is, therefore, ironic that the same Member States who argued against “piecemeal” reform, are now supporting a piecemeal initiative which ignores the root cause of the problem.

In other business, the General Assembly adopted, without a vote, two draft decisions titled “Informal interactive hearing with indigenous peoples” (document A/76/L.51) and “Open-ended working group on reducing space threats through norms, rules and principles of responsible behaviours” (document A/76/L.50), respectively.

The former had the General Assembly decide to postpone to its seventy‑seventh session the request to its President to organize and preside over an informal interactive hearing with indigenous peoples and prepare a summary of the hearing. Previously, the Assembly had requested such an event to take place during its seventy-fourth session, on the margins of the session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the request had been rolled over to its seventy-fifth session and then to seventy-sixth session.

The latter had the Assembly decide that an open-ended working group on reducing space threats through norms, rules and principles of responsible behaviours shall hold its first session from 9 to 13 May 2022, its second session from 12 to 16 September 2022, its third session from 30 January to 3 February 2023 and its fourth session from 7 to 11 August 2023.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Liechtenstein, Gabon, Guyana, Philippines, Brazil, Nicaragua, Algeria, Thailand, Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, Argentina, Iran, Cuba, Colombia, Lithuania (also for Estonia and Latvia), Luxembourg (also for Belgium and the Netherlands), Albania, Costa Rica, Turkey, Bulgaria, Canada, Japan, Qatar, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Poland, Guatemala, Kenya, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Ireland, Kuwait, Malta, Austria, Ukraine, Ecuador, Timor‑Leste and Israel.

The representative of Syria spoke in the exercise of the right of reply.

The Assembly will reconvene at a time and date to be announced.

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