What's In Blue

Posted Tue 20 Feb 2018

Purposes and Principles of the UN Charter: Briefing

Tomorrow (21 February), there will be a ministerial-level briefing on the “purposes and principles of the UN Charter in the maintenance of international peace and security”. Secretary-General António Guterres and former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon are expected to brief. Kuwaiti Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sabah is expected to preside. Two other Council members are expected to be represented by their foreign ministers, and one by a deputy foreign minister.

Tomorrow’s briefing is scheduled to coincide with the 27th anniversary of the expulsion of Iraqi forces from Kuwait by a broad international coalition, authorised by the Security Council through resolution 678 of 29 November 1990. Kuwait, and most likely other members, will reflect on the importance of this event as an example of how the collective security machinery outlined in the UN Charter was used to address a breach of the peace.

The briefing may offer Secretary-General Guterres an opportunity to update the Council on his proposals to reform the UN’s peace and security architecture. Guterres emphasised the importance of a “surge in diplomacy” when he assumed office, and he might reflect on his efforts to promote preventive diplomacy as envisaged by article 99 of the Charter, which says that the Secretary-General “may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security”.

Kuwait has circulated a concept note in preparation for the debate to help guide the discussion (S/2018/85). It provides some ideas that member states may use to focus their statements, including inter-alia by considering ways of:

  • recommitting to Chapter VI of the Charter for the peaceful settlement of disputes through “negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement” or other peaceful means (i.e., article 33);
  • making better use of sanctions (i.e. article 41) as a means of exerting pressure on spoilers in a political process;
  • determining how best to employ the Charter’s collective security tools under Chapter VII;
  • promoting the rule of law, such as through the establishment of criminal tribunals;
  • exploring how regional and sub-regional arrangements in Chapter VIII of the Charter can be more effective; and
  • reflecting on Security Council best practices and lessons learned.

Members will most likely build on these ideas in their statements. While a wide range of issues in Chapters VI (”Pacific Settlement of Disputes”), Chapter VII (“Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace and Acts of Aggression”), and Chapter VIII (“Regional Arrangements”) are relevant to the briefing, the tension in the Charter between sovereignty and human rights will most likely be evident in the meeting, as has been the case in previous Council meetings on the Charter. Consistent with the spirit and letter of the Charter, a number of statements may reflect the importance of the conflict prevention role of the Council, the Secretariat, and the broader UN system. Additionally, some speakers may note the collective responsibility of UN member states to promote international peace and security.

A further point that might be made—both by members and briefers—is that the tools available to the Council are at times overlooked or are not used comprehensively to address a conflict or a threat to the peace. As the Kuwaiti concept note maintains, given the current state of world affairs, the Council has a responsibility to demonstrate a stronger and renewed commitment to the tools provided for in the Charter.

The briefing will be the third Council meeting on the UN Charter since 2015. On 23 February 2015, a ministerial-level open debate on the Charter was convened at the initiative of China, marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and the founding of the UN. Venezuela initiated a ministerial-level open debate on 15 February 2016 in which 64 member states participated, including Council members, on the topic “Respect for the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations as a key element for the maintenance of international peace and security”. Venezuela’s foreign minister, Delcy Rodríguez Gómez, presided. Then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon briefed in both the 2015 and 2016 meetings. In both of these meetings, while emphasising the importance of state sovereignty, he noted that human rights violations undermine sovereignty, as they generate instability, and should be addressed through timely action.

Kuwait is expected to produce a summary of tomorrow’s meeting in its national capacity.

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