Ukraine: Vote on Draft Humanitarian Resolution*
Today (23 March), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine. The draft text, which was proposed by Russia, was placed in blue on 15 March, a day after France and Mexico announced that they would cease negotiating a draft Security Council resolution they had proposed on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, which members had been negotiating since 27 February. France and Mexico have instead decided to table their draft—which they are co-sponsoring with over 80 additional member states—for a vote in the General Assembly later this week.
At the time of writing, it appeared unlikely that the Russian draft Security Council resolution would have the support required for adoption. Absent a veto, a draft resolution on non-procedural matters requires nine out of 15 votes to be adopted.
Nearly one month into Russia’s military offensive, Ukraine faces an increasingly dire humanitarian situation. As at 21 March, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had documented 2,510 civilian casualties, including 953 deaths, while noting that true figures are likely to be considerably higher. Most casualties have been attributed to the use of explosive weapons with a wide-impact area, such as shelling from heavy artillery, the use of multiple rocket launch systems, and air attacks. Moreover, since the conflict erupted on 24 February, more than ten million people—nearly a quarter of Ukraine’s population—have been forcibly displaced, according to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric. This figure includes 6.5 million internally displaced people and 3.4 million refugees—nearly half of them children—who have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries.
The Council has held three briefings on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine since the conflict erupted, on 28 February, 7 March and 17 March. (For more information, see our 5 March and 17 March What’s in Blue stories.)
The draft text in blue will be the third draft resolution on Ukraine to be voted on by the Security Council since 24 February. On 25 February, the Council voted on a draft resolution co-authored by Albania and the US, which would have condemned Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. The draft resolution failed to be adopted owing to a Russian veto. Eleven members voted in favour of the text, while China, India, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) abstained.
On 27 February, the Council adopted resolution 2623, which called for an “emergency special session” (ESS) of the General Assembly to consider and recommend collective action on the situation in Ukraine. This represented the first time in four decades that the Council has adopted a “Uniting for Peace” resolution, whereby the Council refers a situation on which its permanent members are deadlocked to the General Assembly. Resolution 2623 was adopted with 11 votes in favour, one against (Russia), and three abstentions (China, India and the UAE). (For more information, see our 25 February and 27 February What’s in Blue stories.)
At a press briefing following the adoption of resolution 2623, France announced that it would work with Mexico on a draft resolution addressing the humanitarian situation in Ukraine. On 27 February, France and Mexico circulated an initial draft text to Council members. The initial draft resolution did not contain explicit references to Russia or its invasion of Ukraine, but rather a list of humanitarian demands, including an immediate cessation of hostilities; the protection of civilians, including humanitarian and medical personnel; the protection of civilian objects and critical infrastructure; safe passage for civilians; and unhindered access for humanitarian assistance in Ukraine.
France and Mexico convened two rounds of negotiations on 1 and 3 March and then further discussed the draft text with Council members during closed consultations following the Council’s 7 March humanitarian briefing on Ukraine.
It seems that negotiations on the draft co-authored by France and Mexico were difficult, reflecting sharp divisions among Council members regarding the conflict in Ukraine. Several members—such as Albania, France, Ireland, Norway, the UK, and the US— apparently underlined the need for the text explicitly to reference Russia’s role in bringing about the humanitarian crisis and call for the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine. On the other hand, it seems that some Council members, including China and Russia, expressed a preference for a text devoid of what they termed political language, such as references to any particular member state. Other members argued, however, that an apolitical text would create a false moral equivalence between Russia’s acts of aggression and Ukraine’s justified self-defence under article 51 of the UN Charter.
Over the course of negotiations, France and Mexico attempted to bridge this divide. The co-authors added preambular paragraphs endorsing Secretary-General António Guterres’ call for Russia to stop its military operations and recalling the obligation of states under article 2 of the UN Charter to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. An operative paragraph was also added deploring the dire humanitarian consequences of the hostilities committed against Ukraine, alluding to Russia’s role in causing the humanitarian crisis. Despite these changes, it appears that the co-authors were unable to find sufficient common ground on the draft resolution. On 14 March, France and Mexico held a press briefing and announced that they would take their initiative to the General Assembly to “allow for a vigorous, united message to be sent out by the international community”.
At the time of writing, the General Assembly appeared likely to vote on the draft resolution proposed by France and Mexico, and co-sponsored by over 80 member states, following the general debate of the ESS that resumed this morning (23 March). It seems that South Africa had proposed a competing General Assembly draft resolution. Similar to Russia’s draft resolution at the Security Council, South Africa’s General Assembly text makes no explicit references to Russia or its invasion of Ukraine. In a letter accompanying the text of its General Assembly resolution, which explains the context of its approach, South Africa argued that “political issues that may lead to member states not agreeing to a text should be addressed elsewhere”. It is currently unclear if and when South Africa’s draft resolution would be put to a vote.
Draft Resolution in Blue
The draft resolution proposed by Russia contains several components from the draft Security Council resolution co-authored by France and Mexico, while omitting references unacceptable to Moscow. Similar to the text co-authored by France and Mexico, Russia’s draft resolution in blue expresses grave concern about reports of civilian casualties and the deteriorating humanitarian situation in and around Ukraine, including the growing number of internally displaced persons and refugees. The draft text also calls for the protection of civilians (including humanitarian and medical personnel), respect for international law and the protection of civilian objects and critical infrastructure, safe and unhindered evacuation of all civilians, and unhindered humanitarian access in Ukraine. Unlike the resolution co-authored by France and Mexico, however, the draft resolution in blue contains no references to Russia or its role in the conflict and does not call for an immediate cessation of hostilities. In addition, while the text proposed by France and Mexico reiterated the Secretary-General’s call for Russia to stop its military operation, the Russian draft text in blue instead refers to Guterres’ call for the “return to the path of dialogue and negotiations”.
After announcing on 15 March that it would table its own humanitarian draft resolution, which it would put straight in blue, Russia convened a single round of negotiations on 16 March. It appears that the negotiations were once again difficult, marked by similarly diverging views among Council members over the inclusion of political language referencing Russia’s acts of aggression against Ukraine, on the one hand, and calls for an apolitical text, on the other. Following the one round of negotiations, Russia sent a letter to all member states explaining that its draft resolution is an “action-oriented, depoliticised, balanced” text that “makes equal demands to all parties concerned”. The letter criticised the resolution co-authored by France and Mexico, which had been moved to the General Assembly, and suggested that the General Assembly cannot substitute for the Security Council on peace and security issues. In addition, the letter announced that the draft text is open for co-sponsorship by the wider UN membership.
Several Council members denounced the Russian draft resolution in blue. In a 15 March tweet, the UK maintained that the Russian draft text “hides behind established humanitarian language”, demanding respect for international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians while omitting the fact that Russia is “committing war crimes…bombing maternity hospitals, schools and homes…and that its actions are the cause of the humanitarian crisis”. The tweet also confirmed that the UK would not vote for a resolution that fails to recognise Russia’s responsibility for the crisis. At an 18 March joint press stakeout, Albania, France, Ireland, Norway, the UK and the US accused Russia of “abusing its responsibilities and privileges as a permanent member of the Security Council”.
Russia had initially called for the vote for 18 March. However, at the 17 March humanitarian briefing, Moscow announced the postponement of the vote due to “unprecedented pressure by Western partners”, citing a 17 March letter from Albania and the US circulated to all member states urging them not to co-sponsor Russia’s draft resolution. On Monday (21 March), Russia announced that it would put its draft to a vote today (23 March).
At the time of writing, it appears that the draft will not have the support required for adoption. While Russia is expected to vote in favour of the draft resolution, several Council members—including Albania, France, Ireland, Norway, the UK, the US, and others—are expected to abstain or vote against the resolution. The position of several Council members, including China, India and the UAE, remains unclear. These members abstained on the two previous resolutions on Ukraine considered by the Council and have emphasised the need to keep open the channels of dialogue with Russia.
*Post-script: The draft Security Council resolution prepared by Russia failed to be adopted because it did not garner the requisite support. It received two votes in favour (China and Russia) and 13 abstentions. The draft text (S/2022/231) was co-sponsored by Belarus, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Syria.