May 20, 2019

Center for Global Affairs Examines Security Council Veto Reform

On April 17, The Center for Global Affairs (CGA) hosted an event entitled "Atrocity Crimes and The Veto" in collaboration with the International Center for Transitional Justice.  The event featured panelists:  H.E. Christian Wenaweser, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Lichtenstein to the UN; H.E. Juan Ramón de la Fuente, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Mexico to the UN; Professor Jennifer Trahan, NYU SPS Center for Global Affairs; and Anna Myriam Roccatello, Deputy Executive Director and Director of Programs, International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ).  The panel was moderated by Andras Vamos-Goldman, Adjunct Faculty, NYU SPS Center for Global Affairs and former Executive Director, Justice Rapid Response.


The panel examined use of the veto power or its threat (the silent veto) by permanent members of the UN Security Council during ongoing genocide, crimes against humanity, and/or war crimes.  After introductory remarks by Center for Global Affairs Dean Vera Jelinek, Professor Trahan provided an overview of the problem--veto use (including threats of veto, or inaction due to fear of veto use) where genocide, crimes against humanity and/or war crimes are occurring.  These include, historically, Apartheid South Africa, Rwanda, Darfur, Sri Lanka, and, more recently, Syria and Myanmar.


Ambassador Wenaweser discussed the work of Liechtenstein and other states, first, as part of the "S5" initiative, and then as part of the ACT (Accountability, Coherence and Transparency) Group of States' Code of Conduct.  Under the Code of Conduct, states positively pledge to support Security Council action to prevent or end the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, and/or war crimes, and not to vote against credible draft Security Council resolutions aimed at preventing or ending those crimes.


Ambassador de la Fuente explained the work of France and Mexico in initiating the "French/Mexican Initiative," calling for voluntary veto restraint by the permanent members of the UN Security Council in the face of such core international crimes.  These are both significant initiatives with extensive member states support. Currently 101 states have joined the French/Mexican initiative, and 119 states formally support the Code of Conduct - including two permanent members of the Security Council.


Professor Trahan then discussed that complementary to voluntary veto restraint initiatives, another way to address this vexing problem, is by examining existing hard law legal obligations of states in such situations.   Specifically, she proposed that in situations of ongoing genocide, crimes against humanity, an/d or war crimes, unlimited veto use may not be consistent with international law.  Trahan argued that this may be the case when considering: (1) jus cogens; (2) the purposes and principles of the UN, and (3) specific treaty obligations of the individual permanent member states, such as under the Genocide Convention and 1949 Geneva Conventions.  A rich discussion followed, acknowledging the importance of addressing the problem, and the complementary nature of these initiatives.


Related Articles