Thursday, July 25, 2024
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Modernize the outdated UN veto mechanism

While Christmas is a time for families to get together and share in joyous celebrations, we should keep in mind the origins of this tradition. It is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ (Nabi Isa in Islam) who brought a message of peace, freedom from oppression, justice and equality, charity and humanity and forgiveness.

While engaged in the more worldly traditions of this festive occasion, we often forget those values embodied in Christ (and for that matter, all major religious figures) that we should be doing our best to uphold and cherish if we wish to see a much better world than what we are saddled with.

This is also a good time to reflect on the state of the world and renew our determination to fix wrongs and promote what is right and just. There is no getting away from the fact that today the world, in many parts, is ugly and brutish and becoming more so.

Once again war, in its most evil manifestation is stalking the world. Sometimes watching the news on television becomes unbearable as we see terrified citizens, huddling with their children and the elderly, pulverised by powerful bombs from the skies and artillery shells from tanks on the ground.

We see these scenes straight out of hell unfolding before us as tens of thousands of completely innocent civilians are butchered, as children, again in their thousands, are massacred, as limbs are torn apart and hopes die.

We watch, dumbfounded and dismayed but are powerless to do anything to stop the mass killing, whether in Gaza or Ukraine or Sudan. We can only raise our voices in protest and pray but are impotent to change anything.

The so-called big powers – the overlords of this world with their vast wealth and enough weaponry to destroy several worlds altogether – also seem helpless. They can only wring their hands in despair and make feeble appeals for restraint.

Quite clearly the often cited ‘rules-based world order’ mantra has become a myth. The rule book, deriving from the ashes of the Second World War, accompanied by earnest pledges to ‘never again’ repeat the atrocities against civilians, has been torn apart and discarded. The only rule today is Might is Right and we are back to square one.

It was the massive scale and barbarity of the slaughter and destruction unleashed during the Second World War that finally seemed to have woken up the powerful from their dreams of dominance and led to the founding of the United Nations and the International Criminal Court.

Both these institutions were designed in the hope that their intervention would ensure that the ‘never again’ mantra would prevail in future conflicts. Their inception also led to the creation of the ‘rules-based world order’, which would lay down guidelines on the conduct of parties in conflict, both internationally as well as domestically.

As we can see, countries and invested parties are breaking the rules with impunity and the UN is helpless to do anything except to issue increasingly frantic appeals.

Stultifying veto power

The biggest obstacle to any meaningful action is of course the veto power of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, the United States, France, the United Kingdom and Russia).

It does not matter if the majority of the 15-member Security Council or indeed, the majority of the UN General Assembly vote in favour of a motion, as if one of the five permanent members votes against it, the motion is quashed. Result: deadlock, paralysis and the killing sprees and misery can continue. It is an anachronistic approach that has no place in the modern world.

Clearly this system of a privileged few having such sway over the lives and destinies of billions of people around the world cannot continue. It is broken and needs replacement.

France has been battling to get a revision of this provision adopted since 2013. Its proposal is that the five permanent members of the Security Council would voluntarily and collectively undertake not to use the veto where a mass atrocity has been ascertained.

The definition of mass atrocity would be based on the 1948 Convention on Genocide and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and the 2005 World Summit Declaration which reaffirmed the world’s determination to halt mass killings or collective punishments.

This is a practical solution to the stultifying power of the veto and might actually give teeth to the desire to end the obscenity of mass killing.

But while at it, it is well past time that the smaller nations as well as civil society organisations also have a much greater say in decisions that impact the world – after all, the majority of the global population lives in these states. Africa has long been calling for a permanent position on the Security Council. The AU is lobbying for two permanent seats with the right to veto and two additional seats in the non-permanent category.


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