Mobilizing the Security Council

Article 24(1) requires the Security Council “to ensure prompt and effective action by the United Nations” to fulfil its “primary responsibility' for the

The future is multilateralism 147 maintenance of international peace and security.” The Security Council must be willing and able to act “promptly and effectively” to prevent or respond to any and all threats to international peace and security — whether arising from pandemics like COVID-19 or climate change, or from war, genocide or terrorism. Article 24(2) of the UN Charter further provides that, in discharging its duties, the Security Council “shall act in accordance with the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations.” Accordingly, the Security Council must ensure that any measures taken — by the Council itself or by States or other intergovernmental organizations - are in compliance with international law.

To ensure the effective responsibility of the Security Council, and its permanent and non-permanent members, it is imperative to live up to the promise of Article 24 of the UN Charter which speaks of the Council’s responsibility not its discretion — its duties not its prerogatives. While all States are required to fulfil their international legal obligations, the permanent members — to the extent that they are permanently, entrusted with the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security — have a heightened obligation to ensure that action is taken to respond to global threats regardless of their nature. When a permanent member fails to do so, it also undermines the entire Security Council’s ability to do so. Any abuse of the veto power can prevent the Security Council from fulfilling its responsibility under the UN Charter to take prompt and effective action and arguably betrays the responsibility to protect people in situations involving mass deaths - in particular in situations involving credible allegations of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.23

Finally, in respect of global pandemics or other science-based phenomena, it would be useful to use Rule 39 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure of the Security Council (SCPROP),24 and/or Arria-formula meetings to hear from scientific, medical or other experts as well as by persons affected by the pandemic or related-crises. Article 32 of the UN Charter and Rule 37 of the SCPROP, stipulates that “[a]ny Member of the United Nations which is not a member of the Security Council or any state which is not a Member of the United Nations, if it is a party to a dispute under consideration by the Security Council, shall be invited to participate, without vote, in the discussion relating to the dispute.” Article 32 embodies fundamental fairness and recognizes that hearing from all those involved or affected in the crisis or conflict - regardless of membership in the Security Council or for that matter in the United Nations itself - enhances the prospects of success in addressing that crisis or resolving that conflict. As such, the principle should also apply to affected persons and to non-State parties to intra-State conflicts, provided the latter are legitimate representatives of a party to the conflict and committed to a political resolution to the conflict.

We will never forget the power of seeing and hearing from the representative of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), during the Ebola crisis in 2014. His face and voice were beamed from Monrovia, Liberia, into the Security Council Chamber across a large screen over the heads of the fifteen members. Although, the day before, the Council had already determined that “the unprecedented extent of the Ebola outbreak in Africa constitutes a threat to international peace and security,” 3 the magnitude of the crisis became more tangible to the Council members when someone on the ground told them about individual victims and the individual heroes trying to rescue them. He paid a grateful tribute to President Obama’s Ebola response plan, including the all-important contact tracing, and issued an urgent plea for help to mobilize Member States. “If the international community does not stand up, we will be wiped out” he said.26 They acted immediately and, with the endorsement of the General Assembly, the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) was established the same day.27

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