Why France wishes to regulate use of the veto in the United Nations Security Council

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Proposed by the President of the Republic in 2013, regulation of use of the veto would mean that the five permanent members of the Security Council would voluntarily and collectively commit to refraining from using the veto where a mass atrocity has been ascertained.

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United Nations Security Council (Photo: UN)

1. What is the veto in the United Nations Security Council?

Provision for a veto was made when the United Nations was created, in Article 27 of the United Nations Charter. Security Council decisions are adopted if nine members vote in favour, provided that none of the permanent members (China, the United States, France, the United Kingdom and Russia) votes against.

2. Why regulate use of the veto?

In order not to merely accept paralysis in the Security Council when mass atrocities are committed.

Because France is convinced that the veto should not and cannot be a privilege. It carries with it duties and a special responsibility granted by the Charter of the United Nations. The right to veto was granted to the five permanent members to foster cooperation among them to enable the United Nations to prevent and resolve international conflicts, ensure effective compliance with international law and protect civilian populations.

3. What would regulation involve?

Proposed by the President of the Republic in 2013, regulation of use of the s would mean that the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, the United States, France, the United Kingdom and Russia) would voluntarily and collectively undertake not to use the veto where a mass atrocity has been ascertained.

Being a voluntary measure, it would not require a revision of the United Nations Charter.

4. What criteria would be used to regulate use of the veto?

The criteria for activating self-regulation still need to be defined by the permanent members of the Security Council, with whom we have entered into detailed discussions.

In particular, an understanding needs to be reached on the definition of mass atrocities: the 2005 World Summit declaration and many international conventions, including the 1948 Convention on Genocide and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, may provide a starting-point.

Under the French proposal, the regulation would apply to genocide, crimes against humanity and large-scale war crimes.

5. How would self-regulation be activated?

France envisages the possibility of giving the United Nations Secretary-General a key role, in the spirit of Article 99 of the United Nations Charter. In order to ascertain the existence of mass atrocities, the United Nations Secretary-General would decide to refer the matter to the Security Council either on his own initiative or on a proposal from the High Commissioner for Human Rights or from a certain number of Member States, which France proposes setting at 50.

We have entered into detailed discussions with the permanent members of the Security Council.

6. What is the status of steps to introduce regulation?

France has entered into detailed discussions since it put forward the proposal in 2013, in particular with the other permanent members of the Security Council, as well as UN officials and representatives of international civil society (including academic circles and international organizations).

Although the permanent members have not yet come to agreement on this regulation, France is determined to continue its efforts to make it happen. In this regard, in order to lead the way, President Macron announced on 28 September 2015 before the 70th United Nations General Assembly that France unilaterally renounced the use of the veto against a credible draft resolution aiming to put an end to mass atrocities.

On 25 September 2018, at the 73rd United Nations General Assembly, President Macron set the goal of attaining support from two-thirds of UN members (129 countries) for regulating the right to veto in the event of mass atrocities.

In 2020, the year of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, the political declaration put forward by France and Mexico registered its 105th signatory.

Our initiative is crucial in discussions on reform of the Security Council and the prevention of mass crimes.

7. Is regulation of use of the veto likely to happen?

The French proposal is pragmatic because it does not seek to abolish the veto. It is also ambitious, however, because if accepted it will enable the Security Council to take action against mass atrocities.

Mexico, France and other partners are continuing to work together to keep up momentum around the initiative, with both United Nations Member States and international civil society.

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