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.