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Czy Organizacja Narodów Zjednoczonych niczego nie może zrobić w sprawie Ukrainy? EN

Unsurprisingly, during the three Security Council emergency meetings on Ukraine, held on 1, 2 and 3 March, nobody has even attempted to propose a resolution as any such attempt would be blocked by Russia.

However, the deadlock in the Security Council, resulting from the veto power awarded to the Council’s permanent members, does not mean that United Nations have already exhausted all available options. Let us not forget that on 3 November 1950 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution titled Uniting for peace. A key section of the resolution reads that “if the Security Council, because of lack of unanimity of the permanent members, fails to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security in any case where there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression, the General Assembly shall consider the matter immediately with a view to making appropriate recommendations to Members for collective measures, including in the case of a breach of the peace or act of aggression the use of armed force when necessary, to maintain or restore international peace and security”. This legal instrument further provides that if the General Assembly is not in session, it may meet in an emergency special session at the request either of the Security Council on the vote of any seven members (Security Council consists of 15 members), or of a majority of the Members of the United Nations (currently 193 members). Such an emergency special session should be convened within twenty-four hours.

So far, Uniting for peace emergency special sessions have been convened on ten occasions. The first session addressed the Israeli, French and British invasion of Egypt launched to take control over the Suez Canal zone. Subsequent sessions have discussed the Soviet intervention in Hungary (1956), the Lebanese crisis (1958), the situation in Congo (1960), the outbreak of hostilities in the Middle East and the status of Jerusalem (1967), India and Pakistan’s dispute over Bangladesh (1971), the Soviet Union’s armed intervention in Afghanistan (1980), the situation in Palestine (1980), South Africa’s occupation of Namibia (1981), the situation in the occupied Arab territories and the Golan Heights (1982), Israeli actions in the occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories (1997).

The initiated actions of the General Assembly resulted in the adoption of various resolutions. Some called the United Nations Secretary-General to establish a peacekeeping force (Suez Canal crisis), others asked UN Member States to deliver humanitarian aid (Hungary) or to stop the provision of military aid (Congo). On the other hand, the most far-reaching resolutions demanded the international isolation of Israel (1982) and the imposition of sanctions against South Africa (1981). The most recent case, involving the Israeli actions in the occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories, the General Assembly decided to request the International Court of Justice to prepare an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of the construction of a wall in the occupied Palestinian territory and called upon Member States to act in accordance with the findings of the Court (ICJ rendered that opinion in 2004).

A matter considered under the Uniting for peace procedure becomes an international issue. Even though resolutions adopted by the United Nations General Assembly have no binding legal force, they trigger certain international responses and often − directly or indirectly − lead to an acknowledgement of a severe breach of international law.

Whilst the situation in and around Ukraine does not de-escalate, the use of the Uniting for peace procedure becomes not only a desired but indeed a necessary course of action. Ukraine has already lost control over the Crimea. What is more, Russia thwarts the initiatives undertaken within the framework of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, blocking the entrance of OSCE observers to the Crimea under the guise of a “sovereign decision” of the local authorities, an excuse believable only to the naive.

A brief glance at the list of current members of the Security Council proves that the Uniting for peace procedure may be launched without any significant formal difficulties. Apart from its permanent members (the US, France and the UK), the Council comprises of Lithuania and Luxembourg. The latter two countries should take on the task of persuading other states. Still, it seems reasonable to reach for the widest possible support for the initiative, also beyond the Euro-Atlantic community. Therefore, a request submitted by a majority of UN Member States would be the most desirable option.

Let us not forget that resolutions of the General Assembly are made by a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting. Each Member State has one vote, including minor countries without much political leverage. When the Uniting for peace procedure was last invoked, Israel used various forms of persuasion to discourage small states from voting against its interests. Ultimately, it succeeded only to a limited extent. Yet Russia is a bigger and more demanding player, very skilled in diplomatic skirmishes.

One more thing. The use of the Uniting for peace procedure as well as the impact and clarity of ensuing resolutions depend on social support for measures taken by the UN General Assembly. National and international non-governmental organisations are referred to as the Fifth Estate which not only shapes public views but also influences decisions taken by governments. It is high time we did our best to build a joint coalition of such organisations for Ukraine.

Professor Ireneusz C. Kamiński
Legal expert to the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights

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