UN General Assembly discusses increase in Security Council veto usage

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The UN General Assembly (UNGA) on Tuesday debated the use of veto power in the Security Council, just ahead of the second anniversary of a special measure implemented to oversee its application.

This discussion came shortly after the United States vetoed Palestine’s application for full UN membership last week.

UNGA president Dennis Francis highlighted that the Security Council has struggled to address critical peace and security issues collectively in areas including the Gaza Strip, Mali, Syria, Ukraine, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

“At this precarious time of heightened geopolitical tensions and when ongoing and emerging crises demand our urgent and decisive action, it would be a derogation of our duty as the General Assembly if we stood idle and allowed the unrestrained use of the veto to paralyze not only the council itself but the United Nation’s ability to respond efficiently to questions of peace and security,” he said.

The veto power, a special voting right, is held by the five permanent members of the Security Council – China, France, Russia, Britain, and the United States. If any one of these nations casts a negative vote, the resolution or decision is automatically defeated.

During Tuesday’s debate, many ambassadors pointed out that the veto has been used six times in as many months regarding Palestine and the ongoing war in Gaza, with some calling for urgent council reform that would further limit or even eliminate the veto privilege.

Opening the debate, Francis said the world body and the council are expected “to work in unison and dedicated to one overarching purpose: saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war” and that the “veto initiative,” approved by the General Assembly in its resolution 76/262, is “a significant breakthrough to involve the entire membership on these issues.”

Underlining the pronounced contrast between the urgent need for decisive action and the prevailing inaction, which undermines the UN’s work and credibility, he said that perhaps, despite council deadlock being unacceptable, it is precisely for the reason of its state of paralysis that “we must ramp up momentum.”

“If we do nothing, questions on continued relevance of the United Nations will escalate, and public confidence in this institution will increasingly dwindle, with each veto cast perceived as our collective failure to act.”

Since the UN’s inception, vetoes have been used 320 times.

Vetoes have been used 13 times since the General Assembly adopted a resolution designed to foster greater cooperation with the Security Council following Russia’s special military operations in Ukraine in early 2022.

Introduced by Liechtenstein, the resolution mandates that any use of the veto power in the Security Council automatically prompts a meeting and debate within the General Assembly. This procedure is designed to allow UN member states to scrutinize the veto usage and make recommendations.

As with all Assembly resolutions, they carry moral and political weight, but are non-binding and do not generally carry the force of international law, unlike some measures agreed by the Security Council.

Many of the more than 50 ambassadors at Tuesday’s debate highlighted cases of veto use, with some permanent council members defending their right to the privilege.

Deputy permanent representative of Russia Dmitry Polyanskiy said the United States has used its veto four times to ensure Israel remains “unimpeded” in its operations in Gaza and regarding Palestine’s bid for UN membership and continues to do so, contrary to the will of the majority of UN member states.

However, Russia and China’s veto of a U.S. draft allowed the council to adopt a resolution tabled days later by its 10 non-permanent members, calling for a ceasefire for Ramadan.

“Accordingly, it was the only right thing to do, and it reflected the will of the overwhelming majority of members of the international community,” he said. “That situation is the best possible response to those that criticize the existence of the veto for permanent members.”

The veto right is the “cornerstone” of the entire UN architecture, and without it, the council would become “an organ that rubberstamped dubious decisions imposed by a circumstantial majority that would be practically impossible to implement,” he said, adding that a veto is “the most extreme measure” when other options have been exhausted and an inalienable right, and its use does not violate anything.

Source: Xinhua

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