You are here: Britain backs initiative to restrain Security Council veto

5 October 2015

The UK has supported an initiative in which members of the UN Security Council would voluntarily refrain from using the veto in situations of mass atrocity. The power of veto - held by permanent members France, Russia, China, US and UK (the P5) - continues to block Security Council action in Syria. 

The commitment would be in the form of a Code of Conduct, which includes a pledge to support credible Security Council action against crimes of mass atrocity: genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Code would also encourage states to uphold the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) - an emerging international norm which requires states to protect populations from atrocity crimes.

The iniative is led by the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) Group, a cross-regional grouping of 27 small and middle-sized states working to improve the working methods of the UN Security Council. The Code would be non-binding, voluntary and does not specifically refer to the veto or the P5, but focuses on the willingness of the Council as a whole to enable action to protect populations from atrocities.

Speaking for the UK at the ACT Group event at the UN in New York last week, British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said that 

"[T]he ACT code is an important step forward. It emphasises the central role of all Security Council members in confronting threats to peace and security. It focuses minds and increases the political cost to those who do use their veto to block the way. I’m glad to say that the UK has not used our veto since 1989. I am proud to say today that we will never vote against credible Security Council action to stop mass atrocities and crimes against humanity."

The Code is similar in aim to a proposal on veto restraint, previously tabled by France. However, rather than seeking to suspend the ability of Council members to use the veto, the new initiative aims to galvanise broad support for all current and potential members of the Council to support timley and decisive action in situations of atrocity crimes. 

The UK's statement marks a success for UNA-UK's campaigning on this issue. UNA-UK has persistently called on the UK Foreign Office to review its stance on the veto for a number of years - both independently, through our parliamentary outreach, and as part of a larger coalition with other NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and the Global Centre for R2P.  

The ACT Group will officially launch it's Code of Conduct on 23 October, in time to take signatures pledging support on the 70th anniversary of the UN. 53 member states have already announced that they will be signing up to the Code. 

Click here to read UNA-UK's updated briefing: 'UN Security Council and the Responsibility to Protect: Voluntary restraint of the veto in situations of mass atrocity'

Click here to read Ambassador Rycroft's statement in full

Photo credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten