Ukraine: Vote on Draft “Uniting for Peace” Resolution*
This afternoon (27 February), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution calling for an “emergency special session” (ESS) of the General Assembly to consider and recommend collective action on the situation in Ukraine. The draft resolution, tabled by Albania and the US, the co-penholders on Ukraine, was put in blue yesterday (26 February). The draft text is a “Uniting for Peace” resolution, whereby the Council refers a situation on which its permanent members are deadlocked to the General Assembly. If adopted, it would be the first such resolution the Council has adopted in four decades.
Today’s vote takes place amid a large-scale attack by Russian military forces targeting numerous major cities in Ukraine—including its capital, Kyiv—which involves aerial and ground operations. As of 26 February, the Ukrainian government reported at least 198 civilian deaths and injuries to approximately 1,115 people. At the same time, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documented at least 64 civilian deaths and 176 injuries, while noting that these figures may be an underestimate. Moreover, as at today (27 February), at least 368,000 people have fled Ukraine since the attacks began on 24 February, according to UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. According to media reports, Russia and Ukraine may soon hold direct talks about the conflict, as Ukraine has agreed to meet the Russian delegation on the Belarus-Ukraine border.
The Council will vote on the draft text in blue two days after Russia vetoed a draft resolution that deplored its aggression against Ukraine in violation of article 2, paragraph 4 of the UN Charter and demanded that it immediately withdraw all its military forces from Ukraine. In addition to the Russian veto, 11 members voted in favour of the text and three members abstained (China, India and the United Arab Emirates). The draft resolution was co-sponsored by 81 member states. (For more information, see our 25 February What’s in Blue story.)
The draft resolution that will be considered today decides to call for an ESS of the General Assembly due to the lack of unanimity among the Council’s permanent members regarding the situation in Ukraine, which it argues has prevented the Security Council from exercising its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. This language is in line with General Assembly resolution 377 A (V) of 3 November 1950, also known as “Uniting for Peace”, which states that if the Security Council, because of a lack of unanimity among its five permanent members, fails to act as required to maintain international peace and security, the General Assembly shall consider the matter immediately and may issue appropriate recommendations to UN members for collective measures, including the use of armed force when necessary, to maintain or restore international peace and security.
Resolution 377 A (V) maintains that an ESS of the General Assembly can be called if requested by the Security Council “on the vote of any seven members [nine since 1965 when the Council expanded from 11 to 15 members], or by a majority of the Members of the United Nations”. Typically, important questions considered by the General Assembly require a two-thirds majority and Article 27(2) of the UN Charter states that decisions of a procedural matter shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine Security Council members. Furthermore, Council resolutions referring a matter to the General Assembly have historically been adopted despite a negative vote from a permanent member, and thus are viwed as procedural matters not subject to a veto. (Information on voting on procedural and non-procedural matters can be found in the UN Repertoire.) Resolution 377 (A) calls on the General Assembly to convene the ESS within 24 hours.
There have been seven instances when the Council adopted a resolution referring a deadlocked situation to the General Assembly. If today’s draft is adopted, it will represent the first time the Council has done so since 1982. The General Assembly has invoked “Uniting for Peace” on at least four occasions, most recently in 1997. (See our supplemental insert on Security Council Deadlocks and Uniting for Peace: An Abridged History.)
The current scenario bears some similarity to developments following a Russian veto in March 2014 of a draft resolution on Ukraine declaring the 16 March 2014 referendum in Crimea illegal (S/2014/189). In that instance, however, the Security Council did not vote on a resolution referring the matter to the General Assembly; rather, the General Assembly reacted independently to the situation by adopting a resolution on 27 March 2014, titled “Territorial integrity of Ukraine” (A/RES/68/262), which received 100 votes in favour, 11 against and 58 abstentions (24 member states were either absent or were present and did not vote). While the General Assembly could choose to discuss and vote on a resolution on the current situation in Ukraine in the same way, it appears that the goal of several Council members is to send a strong political signal by pursuing a Security Council “Uniting for Peace” resolution.
*Post-script: the Security Council adopted resolution 2623, calling for an emergency special session (ESS) of the General Assembly. Eleven members voted in favour, one against (Russia) and three members abstained (China, India and the United Arab Emirates). As the resolution relates to a procedural matter, it was not subject to a veto by a permanent member. The General Assembly convened for the ESS requested by the Council on 28 February. In its explanation of vote on resolution 2623, France announced that it will table a draft Security Council resolution on humanitarian access in Ukraine, together with Mexico.