What's In Blue

Posted Wed 8 Jan 2020

Security Council Ministerial Open Debate on the UN Charter

Tomorrow (9 January), the Council will hold a ministerial-level open debate on the topic of “Maintenance of international peace and security: upholding the UN Charter”. Viet Nam, Council president this month, is organising the open debate ahead of the 75th anniversary of the UN Charter in June 2020, as an opportunity for member states to reflect on and reaffirm their commitment to upholding Charter principles, particularly in the context of international peace and security. Viet Nam’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Pham Binh Minh, is expected to chair the meeting. Secretary-General António Guterres and Chair of the Elders Mary Robinson are to brief.  Members have been negotiating a draft presidential statement, which is expected to be adopted during the meeting.

In preparation for the debate, Viet Nam has circulated a concept note to help guide the discussion (S/2020/1). The concept note emphasises that in the aftermath of the Second World War, the UN Charter helped the international community make significant strides in achieving progress towards international peace and security. The concept note also acknowledges that the Security Council—which has the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security under the Charter—has often experienced difficulties responding to crises swiftly and effectively.

To encourage dialogue about how the Council may best respond to threats to international peace and security, the concept note asks the participants to:

  • discuss during the open debate how member states in general, and the Council in particular, should employ the tools provided in the Charter to uphold international peace and security;
  • to reflect on examples of successful interventions, failures, and lessons learned by the Council;
  • to consider how to improve collaboration between various international actors to promote adherence to the Charter, among other issues.

The draft presidential statement, which was circulated to Council members in late December, reaffirms the Council’s commitment to the Charter, including its purposes and principles, and an “international order based on international law.” In this context, it appears that Russia and a few other Council members objected to a reference to an international order based on the rule of law, as well as international law, suggested by Germany, which view such language, or phrasing such as a “rule-based system”, as an avenue to justify actions that are not in strict compliance with international law.

Another area of contention related to human rights language. Some Council members had proposed adding to the draft language on the Council’s role in the promotion and encouragement of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. This was objected to by other Council members, such as Russia and China, which have a narrower view of the relevance of human rights to the maintenance of international peace and security. The final draft text does not include any language on human rights.

It seems that China had wanted a reference to the need for “inclusive and mutually beneficial” dialogue. Following pushback from some members, the final draft text refers only to inclusive dialogue.

Despite these differences, the negotiations were not particularly contentious as the draft presidential statement is short and narrow in scope, and mostly uses previously agreed-upon language from various UN texts concerning the Charter. Other elements of the draft presidential statement include a reaffirmation of the Council’s commitment to the Charter, including its purposes and principles. It also emphasises the importance of the Charter to the functions and maintenance of international peace and security. The draft presidential statement calls for full compliance with the Charter and welcomes all efforts to assist in domestic implementation of the member states obligations under the Charter. It encourages the dissemination of knowledge of the Charter, including through relevant training programs, and recognises the role of regional and sub-regional organisations in the maintenance of international peace and security in accordance with the Charter, consistent with Chapter VIII.

While participants in tomorrow’s open debate are expected to cover some of the areas suggested by the concept note, some Council members, as well as the wider membership, are likely to seize the opportunity to address recent developments, particularly the US airstrikes on Iraq on 3 January, which led to Qasem Soleimani’s–an Iranian Major General in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and commander of its Quds force, a division responsible for extraterritorial military and clandestine operations–death and subsequent developments.  In this context, these members may raise the obligations of the member states, including the P5, under the UN Charter, its principles and original purpose.

The most recent ministerial-level open debate on the UN Charter was convened by Venezuela, during its February 2016 presidency of the Council. In his briefing, then-Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasised prevention “through both early warning and early action”. In February 2015, China convened another ministerial-level open debate with the intention of reaffirming commitment to the purposes and principles of the Charter during the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the UN’s founding. Kuwait initiated a ministerial-level briefing during its presidency in February 2018 on the UN Charter where both Guterres and Ban briefed. Guterres said that the tools provided in the Charter must be used with greater determination and constantly updated. In this context, he emphasised the importance of conflict prevention, the adaptation of UN peacekeeping to current realities, and partnerships between the Security Council and regional and sub-regional organisations. Ban said that in order to meet today’s international peace and security challenges, “the Security Council should undergo reforms to be more flexible in its decision-making process”, further stating that “reform of the Security Council is long overdue”.

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