Ukraine Crisis shows it’s high time to amend the UN Charter
United Nation meeting.
The Charter of the United Nations is the founding document of the United Nations. It was signed on 26 June 1945, in San Francisco, at the conclusion of the United Nations Conference on International Organization, and came into force on 24 October 1945.
The Preamble of United Nations Charter states:
“WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
AND FOR THESE ENDS to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,
HAVE RESOLVED TO COMBINE OUR EFFORTS TO ACCOMPLISH THESE AIMS.
Accordingly, our respective Governments, through representatives assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full powers found to be in good and due form, have agreed to the present Charter of the United Nations and do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations.”
The UN Charter codifies the major principles of international relations, from sovereign equality of States to the prohibition of the use of force in international relations. However, it is a flawed charter, which divides the member states into two major castes: the Brahmins with the veto-wielding power in the UN Security Council (UNSC) and the Sudras who lack the veto power, and are, thus, left at the mercy of the Brahmins. While every member state is a part of the General Assembly, the actual power rests with the 15-member Security Council of which only five (namely, the USA, the UK, France, Russia and China) are permanent members with the power to use their veto on decision making on peace and security matters. These powers are enshrined in the two clauses.
The Article 24.1 states that “In order to ensure prompt and effective action by the United Nations, its Members confer on the Security Council primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, and agree that in carrying out its duties under this responsibility the Security Council acts on their behalf.”
The Article 27.3 states that “Decisions of the Security Council on all other matters shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members including the concurring votes of the permanent members; provided that, in decisions under Chapter VI, and under paragraph 3 of Article 52, a party to a dispute shall abstain from voting.”
A negative vote from any of the permanent members will block the adoption of a draft resolution. However, a permanent member that abstains or is absent from the vote will not block a resolution from being passed.
Last Friday, we saw a good demonstration of this power when Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have demanded that Moscow immediately stop its attack on Ukraine and withdraw all troops. Russia’s move did not surprise anyone since she is a permanent member of the UNSC.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield deplored the Russian veto stating, “You can veto this resolution, but you cannot veto our voices; You cannot veto the truth; You cannot veto our principles; You cannot veto the Ukrainian people; cannot veto the UN Charter…and you will not veto accountability.”
Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya chided the USA for its own double-standards and said with its history of aggressions against other countries, the United States was “in no position to moralize.” He accused the draft’s sponsors of “spinning tales” about the true situation in Ukraine, including Western allies’ attempts to cover up the fact that they had been flooding the Donbas with weapons. “You have made Ukraine a pawn in your own game… this resolution is nothing other than yet another brutal, inhumane move on this Ukrainian chessboard,” he said.
Antonio Gutteres, the top UN official, remains still hopeful with his Organization, which is credited with helping negotiate more than 172 peaceful settlements and helping more than 30 million refugees, providing safe drinking water to more than a billion people and food to millions of people across 80 nations, assisting countries with their elections, providing vaccinations for children, helping millions of women with maternal health and protecting human rights through some 80 treatise and declarations.
He stressed that although the UN Charter has been challenged in the past, it has “stood firm on the side of peace, security, development, justice, international law and human rights”. “Time after time, when the international community has rallied together in solidarity, those values have prevailed. They will prevail, independently of what happened today,” the UN chief said.
“We must do everything in our power so that they prevail in Ukraine but they prevail for all humanity,” concluded the Secretary-General.
The Security Council voted on Sunday (Feb. 27, 2022) to call for a rare emergency special session of the 193-member UN General Assembly (UNGA) on Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, which will be held on Monday. Since the text acted on Sunday was procedural, none of the five permanent Council members could use their vetoes. The measure needed just nine votes in favor to pass. The measure convening the UNGA session was adopted by a vote of 11 in favor, with Russia voting against, and China, India and the United Arab Emirates abstaining.
It is important to note that only ten such emergency special sessions of the General Assembly have been convened since 1950, following the adoption of resolution 377A(V), widely known as ‘Uniting for Peace.’
The outcome of this emergency special session of the UNGA will not have any biting power though to change the course of the current crisis unless the parties in question volunteer to change.
While Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s nuclear weapons on high alert, and his armed forces reached the second-largest Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on Sunday, more support poured in for Ukraine in its ongoing effort to fend off Russian forces.
The European Union (EU) announced unprecedented new actions against Russia. It agreed to close its airspace to Russian airlines, spend $ 500 hundreds millions on buying weapons for Ukraine and ban some pro-Kremlin media outlets in its latest response to Russia’s invasion. USA and its allies have also decided to block “selected” Russian banks from the SWIFT (The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) payments system, which is supposed to inflict a crippling economic blow by preventing Russia from moving money easily. Perhaps even more damaging to Russia than shutting it out of Swift is a move to isolate Russia’s central bank. Preventing it from using its $630 billion international dollar reserves to support the Rouble could see its value collapse with dire consequences for the Russian economy. The Associated Press reported that US has approved the delivery of anti-aircraft Stinger missiles to Ukraine, which may prove to be a game changer in the conflict.
The Ukraine crisis, like the post-9/11 Bush-Blair’s ‘illegal’ wars in the Muslim world, has once again shown how ineffective the UN can be when the culprit is a veto-wielding member of the UNSC. In the past, we have also seen how pariah states with horrendous records of crimes against humanity, e.g., Israel and Myanmar that are not permanent members, can be shielded by their criminal patrons or sponsors wielding veto powers.
It was Dag Hammarskjöld, the second UN secretary general, who said that the United Nations “was created not to lead mankind to heaven but to save humanity from hell”. Sadly, rather than saving humanity from hell, the UNSC has often acted as the conduit to protect the devil.
A number of ongoing crises are indicative of U.N. inaction and paralysis, including Russia’s takeover of part of Ukraine; China occupying disputed territories in South China Sea; the Iraq War; the Israel-Palestine conflict; civil wars in Syria, Yemen, Libya and the Democratic Republic of Congo; and the treatment of Rohingyas in Myanmar, Ughyurs in China and Kashmiris (and Muslim minorities) in India.
As noted by Saeed Khan elsewhere, still, the U.N. and multilateralism are popular throughout the world. A UN survey conducted over more than a million people and dialogues through global consultation, “UN75: The Future We Want, the UN We Need” found that over 87% of the people considered global collaborations vital to facing global challenges and 74% deemed the U.N. essential in tackling those challenges.
Since the UN’s founding in 1945, the mission and work of the Organization have been guided by the purposes and principles contained in its founding Charter, which has been amended three times in 1963, 1965, and 1973.
The latest crisis in Ukraine makes it abundantly clear that the UN Charter needs amendment so that no veto-wielding Brahmin member can create an impasse by invading a non-veto-wielding Sudra member state. This would require democratizing the UN by either taking away the veto-wielding status within the UNSC, or giving the sole decision on conflict resolution to the UNGA where the majority decision prevails.
The sooner the world-body adopts these changes, the better prepared would our world be to defeat the scourge of war, which in our lifetime has brought so much untold sorrow and misery to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person.