This article is written by Aastha Verma, from Kalinga University Raipur, Chhattisgarh. The article describes the present-day role of the Security Council in maintaining international peace and security.
The United Nations Security Council was established in 1946 under the UN Charter that is responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security of the countries. It is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations. It is the only body in the UN system whose decisions are binding on all its members. The Security Council is a decision-making body, which imposes legally binding obligations on its members and the council has several tools for the prevention and management of conflicts. The council plays an important role in the governance of the UN system. It possesses responsibilities such as approving the admission of new members to the UN, appointing the Secretary-General and senior UN officials, and conducting elections of the judges of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) with the UN. The Security Council has the authority to establish peacekeeping and special political missions, authorize military enforcement and refer cases to the International Criminal Court (ICC). It has a unique responsibility and decision making power which makes it one of the main organs of the United Nations.
Chapter VI of the UN Charter authorizes the council to make recommendations for resolving the conflicts by various peaceful means and Chapter VII of the Charter authorizes the council for enforcement measures including sanctions and military force. It has developed and refined the use of non-military measures and may send a peacekeeping mission to help the parties to keep opposing forces.
The Security Council
The United Nations Charter established six main organs of the United Nations including the Security Council. It held its first session on 17 January 1946 at Church House, Westminster, London. In its meeting, the council adopted the provisional rule of procedure. The provisional rules were the results of lengthy debates in the Security Council. Since its first meeting, the headquarters of the Security Council has been in New York. Also, its representatives have travelled to various cities to hold its sessions. The Security Council is the only United Nations organ that has the power to make decisions that member states are obligated to implement. It has five permanent members, they are – China, UK, USA, Russia, and France. These were considered as military powers when the UN was founded and enjoyed veto power while creating a balance when making decisions on security issues that would be collectively enforced. Veto power can be exercised when a country is against a draft decision to prevent the adoption of that resolution. Ten non-permanent elected members are elected by the General Assembly and retire on rotation every two years. A member who is retiring is not eligible for immediate re-election. The non-permanent member is chosen to have an equitable representation among the geographic region with the other five permanent countries. The presidency is held for a month by every member in a rotation. It rotates alphabetically every month. If the president of a country is directly involved in the dispute then he/she may not be able to preside over the problem which is going to be discussed. Each member has one vote. Article 27 of the UN charter distinguishes the procedural and non-procedural (substantive) matters in the council’s decision making. They are-
- All procedure matters are defined as a dispute whose decision is made by the council by the affirmative vote of any nine of its members.
- Substantive matters include investigation of disputes or the application of sanctions that require nine affirmative votes including the veto power of five permanent members.
To decide whether the matter is procedural or substantive is itself a substantive question that is decided by the vote of the members. Also, a resolution will fail if seven members vote against the resolution or abstain from voting. The decision of the council is legally binding. Under Article 25 of the UN Charter, the members of the United Nations have to accept and carry out the decision of the Security Council. According to Rule 48, the Security Council conducts its meeting in public and any recommendation to the General Assembly regarding the appointment should be done in private. The Security General keeps the copies of private meetings.
In June 2020, India was elected to the United Nations Security Council as a non-permanent member and this membership is for the year 2021-22. India was the only country from the Asia Pacific category for the year 2021-22. This is for the eighth time India is a part of the United Nations Security Council. India will be UNSC President in August 2021 and will again preside over the council in August 2022 which will help in creating the border national goals.
Functions of the Security Council in maintaining international peace and security
The main function is to look after international peace and security. The primary responsibility of the Security Council is to maintain international peace and security and meets whenever peace is threatened.
- United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has been passed to support peace processes, solve disputes, respond to illegitimate uses of force and enforce sanctions in situations where peace and security are threatened.
- UNSC resolutions have been central for tackling conflict situations and demonstrated extensive joint action to respond to the crises.
- The council’s function is to review the UN peacekeeping operation, consult on the issues of the specific countries, and monitor the implementation of sanctions through its committee.
- With or without agreement with the national government, the council can take action to protect the civilians from the conflict by allowing access to the cross border for humanitarian organizations.
- When there is a conflict the council recommends the parties reach the agreement through peaceful means and appoints a special representative to assist and guide efforts to resolve the conflicts.
- UNSC mandates range from protecting civilians to supporting state-building efforts; the list has been more extensive to improve the strategy towards sustainable peace.
- The council has the right to direct the government to limit the stockpiling of certain weapons or disarms by nuclear non-proliferation and destruction of chemical weapons.
- UNSC has the power to determine the existence of a threat to the peace or the act of aggression and to recommend what actions should be taken.
- UNSC imposes diplomatic relations severance, financial restriction and penalties, and collective military actions if required.
- It has the power to formulate plans for the establishment of a system to regulate armament and to recommend methods of adjusting such disputes or the terms of the settlement.
- Has the power to call on members to apply economic sanctions and other measures not involving the use of force to prevent or stop aggression.
- UNSC has the power to recommend the admission of new members as well as recommend the appointment of the Security General to the assembly, and elect the judges of the International Court of Justice. These recommendations are given to the General Assembly.
- Also, investigate any dispute or situation which might lead to international friction.
Security Council’s perspective on Rohingyas
The Rohingyas Muslims have faced discrimination and repression under the Myanmar government. They were denied citizenship under the 1982 Citizenship Law and they are the group with the largest stateless population in the world. Rohingyas are living in overcrowded camps in Bangladesh to escape genocide and other crimes against humanity. At least 500,000 civilians have been homeless and started coming to Bangladesh. Also, there are reports of burning villages, acts of intimidation, and looting. Women, children, and the elderly were the people who were facing the violation of human rights including sexual violence. These devastating findings pushed some ground-breaking forward movements by international bodies. The United Nations Security Council has strongly condemned the violence against peaceful protest in Myanmar and deep concerns over restrictions on medical facilities, civil societies, labour unions, and journalists as demonstrations continue across the country against the military. A group of Rohingyas filed a criminal case against Myanmar military and civilian leaders. Despite taking a major step at the international level things have remained unchanged for three years.
A strategy for Security Council to take action in Myanmar
The UNSC, despite having the authority to respond to the crisis and pass binding resolutions, is missing in action. A formal session of the council was held in February 2019, to discuss the Myanmar situation in which only nine votes were needed and there was no veto possible on procedural matters such as the council’s agenda. The UN Commission report found that because of the absence of support of the Security Council which is frequently restrained due to its composition and the system of governance, the option to address the issues in a manner consistent with its value and principle is limited to the United Nations. Polarization among the five permanent members becomes a barrier to the action taken by the Security Council which is creating a threat to international peace and security. Public debate in the council keeps the eye on Myanmar and provides an opportunity to members of the Security Council to reinforce the need for justice for heinous crimes. The General Assembly approached the Security Council and encouraged it to consider the human rights situation and take appropriate action to ensure accountability. Further, the General Assembly added that the Security General should use Article 99 of the UN charter which allows bringing to the attention of the Security Council any matter in which his opinion threatens the international peace and security of the society and links the human rights violation in Myanmar. There is an urgent need to improve the situation of Myanmar as there is a violation of human rights which is affecting the democracy and good governance of the country. Also, the council has to protect the people who are living at serious risk.
Beyond peacekeeping – recognising the normative power of the UN
The UN’s active presence in the world through its many missions has helped to resolve disputes, prevent conflict from escalating, and promote peace in some situations, but the fundamental issues that have been identified continue to draw criticism. The role of the UN is more successful in spreading the important norms that have ranged from expanding the security agenda to uphold the nuclear taboo. Example – Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The NPT regime helped in establishing the shared understanding of what was considered prestigious or legitimate to choose to disarm rather than be classified as rogue nations by the international community.
Even when the norm has been questioned, such as when the US recognised India as a nuclear weapons state, the essential assumptions of the nuclear non-proliferation norm have never been seriously questioned. Critics might claim that the UN’s achievements in the areas of nuclear disarmament and collective security have been lacking, yet the UN’s actions have clearly hampered armament and potential escalation, pointing to a major success in sustaining global peace and security.
Since the establishment of the Security Council, it has served as a key forum for addressing security challenges. It is an important organ of the United Nations Organization and plays an important role in maintaining the peace and security of the country. UNSC has various powers through which it can monitor the implementation of sanctions through the committees and can solve the dispute peacefully. In cases where conflict is arising the council may issue ceasefire directives to promote the peacekeeping forces or use enforcement action i.e. sanctions. The permanent members who have veto power prevent the council from fully asserting the role of maintaining peace and security in the country. Due to internal conflict between the members of the UNSC, the general assembly has approached the council and suggested some measures to protect the rights of citizens from risk. Also, the Security Council should keep a check on women, children, and the elderly as they are the ones whose violation of human rights is at its peak.
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