The ongoing war in Ukraine has sparked many questions about the United Nations - namely, the role of the Security Council, the General Assembly and the secretary-general.

The intergovernmental organisation was set up at the end of World War II "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war."

Now that war has returned to Europe many ask what the UN can do to stop it and if it really matters.

Security Council

Although there are still some 60 UN members that have never sat on the Security Council, all members of the organisation, under Article 25 of the Charter, agree to accept and carry out decisions adopted by the Council.

In other words, actions taken by the Council are binding on all UN member countries. When dealing with crises, the Council, guided by the UN Charter, can take several steps.

The Council can call upon parties to a dispute to settle it by peaceful means and recommend methods of adjustment or terms of settlement.

In some cases, the Security Council may resort to imposing sanctions or can even authorise, as a last resort, when peaceful means of settling a dispute are exhausted, the use of force, by member states, coalitions of member states or UN-authorised peace operations to maintain or restore international peace and security.

The first time the Council authorised the use of force was in 1950 under what was referred to as a military enforcement action, to secure the withdrawal of North Korean forces from the Republic of Korea.

Veto power

The voting procedure in the Security Council is guided by Article 27 of the UN Charter which establishes that each member of the Council has one vote.

However, a negative vote by any of the permanent five - China, France, Russian, the UK and US - can prevent the adoption by the Council of any draft resolution relating to substantive matters.

General Assembly's role

According to the General Assembly's 1950 resolution 377A (V), widely known as "Uniting for Peace," if the Security Council is unable to act because of the lack of unanimity among its five veto-wielding permanent members, the Assembly has the power to make recommendations to the wider UN membership for collective measures to maintain or restore international peace and security.

Also, it may meet in an emergency special session if requested by nine members of the Security Council or by a majority of the members of the Assembly.

On February 27, 2022, the Security Council, taking into account that the lack of unanimity of its permanent members had prevented it from exercising its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, decided to call an emergency special session of the General Assembly in its resolution 2623 (2022).

On March 1, the General Assembly adopted a resolution by which it deplored "the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine in violation of Article 2 (4) of the Charter and demanded that the Russian Federation immediately cease its use of force against Ukraine and completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders."

However, unlike Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions are non-binding; countries are not obligated to implement them.

Can a country's membership be revoked?

A member of the UN that has persistently violated the principles contained in the present Charter may be expelled from the organisation by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council, according to Article 6 of the Charter.

This has never happened in the history of the UN.

However, a member of the UN against which preventive or enforcement action has been taken by the Security Council may be suspended from the exercise of the rights and privileges of membership by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Council.

The exercise of these rights and privileges may be restored by the Council, according to Article 5.

The suspension or expulsion of a member state from the organisation is effected by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Council. Such a recommendation requires the concurring vote of the Security Council's permanent members.

Unless they agree to their own expulsion or suspension, permanent Council members can only be removed through an amendment of the UN Charter, as set out in Chapter XVIII.

Along the road to ending apartheid, the Security Council, in 1963, instituted a voluntary arms embargo against South Africa, and the General Assembly refused to accept the country's credentials from 1970 to 1974.

Following this ban, South Africa did not participate in further proceedings of the Assembly until the end of apartheid in 1994.

Secretary-general's 'good offices'

The role of the secretary-general as an important peace-making actor has evolved through extensive practice.

The range of activities carried out by the secretary-general has included good offices, mediation, facilitation, dialogue processes and even arbitration.

One of the most vital roles played by the secretary-general is the use of his "good offices" - steps taken publicly and in private, drawing upon their independence, impartiality and integrity, and the power of quiet diplomacy to prevent international disputes from arising, escalating or spreading.

In practice, this means a UN chief can use his authority, legitimacy and the diplomatic expertise of his senior team to meet with heads of state and other officials and negotiate an end to disputes between parties in conflict

At the end of March, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres invoked the use of his good offices and asked Under Secretary-General Martin Griffiths, the UN emergency relief coordinator, to explore the possibility of a humanitarian ceasefire with Russia and Ukraine, and other countries seeking to find a peaceful solution to the war.

Russia's removal from Human Rights Council

Meanwhile, Russia's membership to the Human Rights Council was suspended Thursday after the General Assembly voted 93 to 24, with 58 abstentions, including Bangladesh, to adopt a resolution.

The brief resolution that was approved expresses "grave concern at the ongoing human rights and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, particularly at the reports of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law by the Russian Federation, including gross and systematic violations and abuses of human rights."

Explaining their decision not to support the resolution, some countries called it premature, noting that there are ongoing investigations into whether war crimes have occurred, or said it would undermine the credibility of the Human Rights Council and the UN.

Others said the resolution reflected American and European geopolitical agendas and what opponents called Western hypocrisy and selective outrage about human rights.

The vote on the US-initiated resolution was significantly lower than the vote on two resolutions the assembly adopted last month demanding an immediate cease-fire in Ukraine, withdrawal of all Russian troops and protection for civilians. Both of those resolutions were approved by at least 140 nations.

Russia's Deputy Ambassador Gennady Kuzmin announced after the vote that the country withdrew from the Human Rights Council earlier Thursday, before the assembly took action, apparently in expectation of the result.

He accused the council of being monopolised by a group of countries with "short-term political and economic interests" that he accused of "blatant and massive violations of human rights."

The Geneva-based Human Rights Council is tasked with spotlighting and approving investigations of rights violations including in Syria and in late March in Ukraine. And it does periodic reviews of the human rights situation in all 193 UN member nations.

The 47-member council was created in 2006 to replace a commission discredited because of some members' poor rights records.

The new council soon faced similar criticism, including that rights abusers sought seats to protect themselves and their allies, and for focusing on Israel.

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield launched the campaign to suspend Russia from its seat on the council in the wake of videos and photos of streets in the town of Bucha strewn with corpses of what appeared to be civilians after Russian soldiers retreated.

Russia is the second country to have its membership rights stripped at the rights council which was established in 2006.

In 2011, Libya was suspended by the assembly when upheaval in the North African country brought down longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi.

While the Human Rights Council is based in Geneva, its members are elected by the General Assembly for three-year terms. Russia's term ends in December 2023.

The March 2006 resolution that established the council says the assembly may suspend membership rights of a country "that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights."

Leave a Comment

Recent Posts