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Use of the UN ‘Veto’ is under scrutiny! 

S. V. Kirubaharan, France 

Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said: “The UN Security Council P5 ought to be dissuaded from using their veto power, which can paralyze the United Nations. The country blocking action ought to have to explain its decision and propose an alternative solution. It has been suggested that a veto only becomes effective if the vetoing state has the support of two or three other permanent members”.

The dream of the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan came nearer to reality on 24 April 2022, when one of the globe’s tiny countries, Liechtenstein proposed a resolution that was successfully adopted by consensus in the UN General Assembly – UN GA. By population, Liechtenstein is the fourth-smallest country in Europe and the sixth smallest in the world.  

A few of the smallest countries are given below, with their population. Out of these ten countries, nine are UN Member states. The Vatican has observer status like Palestine. In the UN, only member states are qualified to vote. 

Dominica with 72,167;  Marshall Islands with 59,610;  Saint Kitts and Nevis — 53,544; Monaco with 39,511; Liechtenstein with 38,250; San Marino with 34,017; Palau with 18,169; Tuvalu with 11,931; Nauru with 10,876 and Vatican with 800. 

The resolution adopted by consensus, called on the veto users (permanent members known as P5 of the UN Security Council – UN SC: United States, United Kingdom, France, China and Russia) to justify their use of the veto in the UN GA, within ten working days after use of the veto. In Latin, veto means ‘I forbid’. According to the UN Charter, it can be authorised or used by the P5, only ‘to maintain international peace and security’.  

According to the adopted non-binding resolution, the UN GA can convene the user of the veto and other countries, to hold a debate on the situation about which the veto was cast.  In other words inviting the country which used the veto to the UN GA to speak and debate with all other UN member states. In the UN SC – there are five permanent members with Veto power and ten other members elected for two years which have no veto power. 

In fact, this idea attracted the mind of the Liechtenstein diplomat, Christian Wenaweser in 2020. With his experience and knowledge gained in two decades with the UN, the loose use of the veto by members of the P5 was believed to be obstructing the UN charter’s mandate.  

Monitoring mechanism 

Diplomats believed that the adopted resolution is ‘straightforward, legally sound and politically meaningful’. It will be seen as a monitoring mechanism for those using the veto and also a means to hear the voices of all the other UN member states. 

When we look into the history of how the veto has been used by the P5, the message is, rightly or wrongly, that UN member states other than the P5 are just puppets.  

Now the adoption of this new resolution last month may give hope to those countries who want UN reform, especially those who want to amend the UN Charter with the aim of limiting the use of the veto by the P5, restricting it to reasonable causes. 

While talking about this resolution, it is the right time to see what the French Ambassador Nathalie Broadhurst Estival said during this process in New York.  She said: Stressing that the veto is not a privilege, but a responsibility, noted that France only used the veto 18 times since 1945 and has not used it for more than 30 years. Condemning the unacceptable blocking of the Security Council by the Russian Federation regarding its aggression against Ukraine, she added her support for the convening of an emergency session of the General Assembly to allow the international community to react to the violation of the Charter. France is fully committed to the process of reforming the Council in order to make it more representative of today’s world while preserving its executive and operational nature. Such reforms must be in line with core values of the Organization and the responsibilities of each organ. In this regard, the General Assembly cannot become a judge of the Security Council or of its members, elected or permanent. It is in this spirit that France, together with Mexico, have introduced a proposal on the use of the veto for the five permanent members of the Council to voluntarily and collectively suspend the use of the veto in the event of mass atrocities, crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes”. 

French initiative 

Since 2013, France has been in favour of regulating use of the veto, through the P5 voluntarily and collectively undertaking not to use it where a mass atrocity has happened. When this is voluntary, it does not require any revision of the UN Charter. 

On 28 September 2015, during the 70th UN GA, President Macron announced that France unilaterally renounced the use of the veto against a credible draft resolution aiming to put an end to mass atrocities. 

On 25 September 2018, during the 73rd UN GA, President Macron set the goal of attaining support from two-thirds of UN members (129 countries) for regulating the right to veto in the event of mass atrocities. 

Continuing its efforts, on the 75th anniversary of the United Nations in 2020, France, alongside Mexico put forward a political declaration signed by 105 member states. 

The French initiative regarding the veto does not aim to abolish it. France continues to works on this initiative with Mexico, many member states and civil society, towards the UN SC taking action against mass atrocities. But it seems that many Asian countries, some African countries and P5 countries other than France are not showing much interest in this initiative. 

While talking about the resolution, this is the best time to consider the reform of the UN SC. Many member states and civil society want the reform of the membership, the use of veto, regional representation in the UN SC, etc 

The reform of the UN SC requires two thirds support from UN GA members and all the P5 to endorse it. 

Regarding membership of the UN SC, there are many feasible possibilities. One is to increase the permanent membership on a regional basis. Presently there are no permanent members from Latin American, the Caribbean States, Africa, or from Asian Pacific.  

The other proposal is on the basis of population/language. Presently, the UN has six official languages – Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. If this were based on language and population, India which has the second largest population in the world and the Hindi language would be considered by the UN. In other words, India is discriminated by the UN itself. 

However, one of the proposed plans is to give Germany in Europe; India and Japan from Asia and Brazil from Latin American countries places in the UN SC as permanent members. To be frank, there is no time frame or any sign of this happening in the near future. 

One can see that, then USSR and the present Russia, used the veto on 18th August 1948 and 13 September 1949 against present Sri Lanka then Ceylon – when it applied for the UN membership.  

To know the history of how the veto was used by the P5, please click on the link given below.

Galle Face & Tiananmen Square 

As I don’t want to write a separate article on the present situation in Sri Lanka, here I would like to give my prediction considering the present ground reality. 

If the opposition are successful in their no-confidence motion, the country will turn towards even worse turmoil. The President and the present Prime Minister, in other words Rajapaksa’s family, will not give up their position so easily. If they did, there would be too many questions to answer and most of them would end up in jail. Then the process to recover the stolen wealth and assets invested in foreign countries by the Rajapaksa family – Dubai, Luxembourg and some European countries, Africa including in Seychelles Island, will start. 

If the Rajapaksa family successfully form an interim government, all those who take cabinet positions will be their puppets. This would not be the right solution for the problems. If they form the interim government, then the people demonstrating at Galle Face may end up almost like what happened in Tiananmen Square in China on 4th June 1989. 

In Tiananmen Square students were demonstrating from 15th April 1989. On 20 May Martial Law was declared and in the early morning of 4th June, thousands of troops started to kill the demonstrators and bystanders. The demonstrators at Galle Face and other areas should keep in mind that this is the same government which brought the war to an end by killing thousands upon thousands of Tamils. 

Another worse option may be a military coup. This could only happen with the help of an outside force. 

The situation in Sri Lanka is unpredictable and changing every hour. In the meantime, no-one knows the Rajapaksa family’s plans and preparation to protect themselves and their stolen assets and wealth. Let’s wait and see.  

“He/she who sows righteousness will harvest righteousness and 

he/she who sows deficiency/evil will harvest deficiency/evil.” 

S. V. KIRUBAharan 



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