Global Policy Forum

Security Council Must Stop Using Veto in Cases of Genocide, Group Says


By Patrick Goodenough

December 10, 2008

Members of the United Nations Security Council should not be allowed to use their veto power to block or weaken resolutions on genocide or mass atrocities, a bipartisan team of former policymakers said Tuesday, as the U.N. marked the 60th anniversary of the convention against genocide. Too often, the group said in a report, the price of all five permanent members agreeing on a resolution "has been the watering down of a response to an emerging threat to the point at which the resolution is ineffectual in averting the threat."

The report by the Genocide Prevention Task Force did not cite examples of such occasions, although China and Russia have shown a willingness in recent years to block international action against despotic regimes, by vetoing, or threatening to veto, resolutions on Darfur, Burma and Zimbabwe. Elsewhere, the taskforce report alluded to the difficulties faced by the West, saying that "Russia's and China's respective relationships with Serbia and Sudan are recent examples of how a great power patron can complicate diplomacy." The remaining permanent members of the Security Council are the United States, Britain and France. The council also has another 10 elected members, each serving for a two-year period, but under current rules they do not enjoy veto power.

The 174-page report was released Tuesday by the taskforce co-chairs, former Defense Secretary William Cohen and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. The taskforce was jointly convened by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the American Academy of Diplomacy and the U.S. Institute of Peace. The report called on President-elect Barack Obama to show from the outset that preventing genocide is a national priority, and said the U.S. Congress should invest $250 million a year to prevent and respond to crises.

Because of the difficulties posed by the Security Council veto, the report recommended that the U.S. secretary of state launch "robust diplomatic efforts" to negotiating an agreement among the five permanent members (P5) on not using the veto in cases relating to genocide or mass atrocities. "A principal aim should be informal, voluntary mutual restraint in the use or threat of a veto in cases involving ongoing or imminent mass atrocities," it said. "The P5 should agree that unless three permanent members were to agree to veto a given resolution, all five would abstain or support it." And in cases where two-thirds of the U.N. General Assembly supported a resolution finding that a crisis poses an imminent threat of mass atrocities, this "should add further impetus to an expeditious Security Council response without threat of a veto."

The report said the U.S. should strive to act through the world body, but "if the Security Council is unable to act, there may be other appropriate options," including action through NATO or the assembling of a coalition of like-minded nations. "While the United States may face criticism for taking strong action in these cases, we must never rule out doing what is necessary to stop genocide or mass atrocities."

According to U.N. figures, Russia/the Soviet Union has used its veto the most over the six decades of the U.N.'s existence – 124 times since 1946. Next comes the U.S. with 82, Britain with 32, France with 18 and China with six. (China has only been a P5 member since it took over Taiwan's seat in 1971.) Although use of the veto has declined in recent years – only 13 times since 2000 – P5 members frequently threaten to veto proposals, exercising what critics call a "silent" or "hidden" veto in order to manipulate the council's agenda or stymie initiatives they oppose.

‘Genocidal incitement'

Several other genocide-related topics were raised on the anniversary of the adoption of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The Genocide Prevention Project, a New York-based non-government organization linked to Dream for Darfur, released a watch list showing eight "red light" countries where it said genocidal conflict is happening or at risk of breaking out – Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burma, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

A former Canadian justice minister and attorney-general, Irwin Cotler, released a petition urging the international community to take legal action against Iran for "genocidal incitement" against Israel. The Genocide Convention includes an obligation to take action to prevent genocide. The petition has been endorsed by a group of legal scholars and other experts, including Nobel peace prize laureate Elie Wiesel. It accuses Iran's leaders of fomenting hatred for the State of Israel, publicly inciting genocide, "supporting the murder of Israelis and Jews through terrorist groups with a genocidal ideology" and "flouting international demands that it suspend a nuclear program intent on implementing a genocide." "The enduring lesson of the Holocaust and that of the genocides that followed is that they occurred not simply because of the machinery of death, but because of the state-sanctioned incitement to hatred," said Cotler, citing Rwanda, the Balkans and Darfur.

While genocide had already occurred in those situations, he said, in the case of Iran action could still be taken to prevent it. "The path to genocide has already been paved; the crime of genocidal incitement has already been committed," Cotler argued. "As members of the international community, we cannot allow this impunity to continue." In a message delivered Tuesday to a conference of the Jewish community organization B'nai B'rith International, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted that the 1948 convention was a direct outcome of the Holocaust. Ever since then, he said, the convention "has embodied the aspiration of the United Nations to prevent such a horror from occurring again."

More Information on the UN Security Council
More General Analysis on the Security Council Veto
More Information on The Power of the Veto


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.