May 22, 2020

Professor Trahan's book Existing Legal Limits to Security Council Veto Power in the Face of Atrocity Crimes about to launch by Cambridge University Press

Next month, Professor Jennifer Trahan of the Center for Global Affairs will have her new book, Existing Legal Limits to Security Council Veto Power in the Face of Atrocity Crimes published by Cambridge University Press. The forthcoming book examines the practice whereby any single permanent members of the UN Security Council can block the Security Council's actions by a simple negative vote (a veto), and particularly focuses on vetoes cast in the face of atrocity crimes.  The book explains the drafting of the 1945 UN Charter and where the veto came from, as well as various situations where it has been used or threatened while there were ongoing atrocity crimes (genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes) -- South Africa, Rwanda, Israel, Darfur, Sri Lanka, Syria, Myanmar and Yemen.  The book contains particularly detailed chronologies of vetoes used related to Syria, and veto threats made regarding Darfur, all while staggering death tolls mount.  It draws a clear linkage between Security Council veto use and deaths on the ground.

The book ends by presenting a new, major thesis that the way the veto is being used cannot be a proper reading of the UN Charter's voting provisions -- which are in effect sometimes facilitating the commission of atrocity crimes.  Particularly, the book argues that the provisions of the UN Charter creating the veto cannot override the UN’s “Purposes and Principles,” nor jus cogens (peremptory norms of international law).  There are also positive obligations imposed by the Geneva and Genocide Conventions in situations of war crimes and genocide – conventions to which all permanent members are parties and which should constrain their voting practices. The author demonstrates how UN Member States could challenge the current state of affairs.

"In this bold book, Professor Jennifer Trahan presents a new, major thesis - that when permanent members of the UN Security Council threaten or use their veto power to block measures aimed at preventing or punishing genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity, they may be acting contrary to international law. She persuasively argues that the use or threat of the veto in such situations can contravene fundamental norms of international law, key international conventions and the 'Purposes and Principles' of the United Nations Charter, and suggests ways to challenge the current state of affairs." 

Richard Goldstone - former Founding Prosecutor, The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda


"As High Commissioner for Human Rights, I had the opportunity to address the UN Security Council many times and raised my concerns over the use of the veto to block action when factual evidence of egregious human rights violations was presented to the Council. This book provides an invaluable, authoritative analysis of the legality of the use of the veto in situations of ongoing genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, measured against legal obligations emanating from jus cogens, the UN Charter, and foundational treaties."

Navi Pillay - former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights


"This bold and courageous book is on the right side of history."

Mark A. Drumbl - Class of 1975 Alumni Professor of Law, Washington and Lee University

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