2020 in Vetoes

2020 was an exceptional year in many ways, including what transpired at the UN Security Council. Due to the Covid19 pandemic, meetings were moved online and procedures had to be adapted. The digital format has certainly not helped the negotiations in the council, and we have seen a total of five vetoes this year on three draft-resolutions. Although this is one veto less than the year before, it is the same number of vetoed draft-resolutions and the overall trend remains clear; we still have a highly divided Security Council that does not step up to its task to maintain international peace and security.

As in previous years, the most controversial issue was the situation in Syria. Four of the five vetoes were cast regarding humanitarian aid delivery mechanisms in the country, which has also been vetoed previously, including at the end of 2019. The vetoes regarding Syria are more closely described in a previous analysis, but they are revealing in several ways. The back and forth of draft resolutions that have either been vetoed or not adopted made a process visible that usually stays hidden in negotiation rooms; It illustrates that fair negotiations are simply not possible as long as the veto is ruthlessly used. Russia and China had taken the decision to cut down the number of border crossings to one and there was nothing the other members of the Security Council could do about it, even though the clear majority wanted to keep at least the two existing border crossings open. In the end it is again the Syrian people that have to bear the consequences in this desperate situation that has been made even worse by the pandemic.

Only a short time after the four Syria-related vetoes, the next veto came along which would have given guidelines on the treatment of foreign terrorist fighters. This case was also remarkable in several ways. It was the first US veto unrelated to Israel since 2002 and it is the first time that a draft resolution not pertaining to a specific geographic area is vetoed. Instead, the draft resolution mainly contained non-binding language regarding the treatment of terrorists independent of a specific situation. The stated reasons which made the USA veto are also highly unusual. The main critique was that the measures did not go as far as the USA would have liked, since it did not call upon states to repatriate terrorists and their families. This veto led to interesting discussions in our group, on whether the absence of a measure in a draft resolution can pose a threat to sovereignty or security – we think not.

Although these are all the visible vetoes of the year, there is one more situation that should be mentioned. It is not only when a veto is actually cast that P5 countries are misusing their veto power; threatening to veto a resolution can have the exact same effect. Those veto threats are however a lot harder for us to discover, since there often is no paper trail for us to follow, which is why we and many others like to call these instances for “hidden” vetoes. We cannot measure how common those hidden vetoes are, but this year there was one example prominent enough to reach our attention. In this specific case, the USA blocked draft resolutions calling for a global cease-fire in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, because the discussed resolution would mention the World Health Organization (WHO), and in a revised version indirectly referenced “specialized health agencies”.[1] Because of this, it took until July for the Security Council to finally agree on a resolution, which can be summarized as too little too late.

[1] https://www.rfi.fr/en/americas/20200509-us-blocks-un-vote-on-global-ceasefire-resolution-coronavirus

2021-02-08T07:38:45+01:00February 8th, 2021|Categories: Articles|

July saw two double vetoes regarding Syria. What happened?

The situation in Syria is one of the most striking examples of a blocked Security Council, where the veto is regularly misused. Here is a timeline of the most recent showdown in July:

June 29th: The Security Council gets a briefing by Under-Secretary-General Lowcock, who describes the humanitarian situation in Syria. The economy is deteriorating, the number of people who are food insecure has reached a record high of 9.3 million and Covid-19 is on the rise and poses an enormous threat to the war-ridden health care system. The Secretary-General’s recent reports emphasize the necessity of the Bab al-Salaam and Bab al-Hawa border crossings which need reauthorization by June 10th. These border crossings have facilitated 1,781 trucks with humanitarian aid from Turkey into Syria in May. However, this is still not enough to meet the need of the people and while calling for a scale-up of the cross-border operation, Lowcock also warned that any efforts to further cut it would only cause more suffering and death.

Regarding the situation in the north-east of the country, some shipments have been sent by the WHO both overland and by air. However, since the Al‑Yarubiya crossing along the Iraq border was closed in January, most facilities that previously relied on it have not been able to receive any medical items. Lowcock says that a combination of both cross-border and cross-line aid is needed and that the Security Council will also need to authorize additional crossings if adequate steps to ensure deliveries from within Syria are not taken.

July 7th:  The Security Council votes on draft resolution S/2020/654, submitted by Belgium and Germany, which would renew the cross-border mechanism for Bab al-Salaam and Bab al-Hawa for 12 months. This draft already does not meet the need as described by the Secretary-General, since it does not re-authorize the Al‑Yarubiya crossing, but it would keep the status quo.

This draft resolution receives 13 votes in favor but is not adopted because of the vetoes cast by both Russia and China.

July 8th: The Security Council votes on draft resolution S/2020/658 submitted by Russia. This draft would reauthorize only the border crossing Bab al-Hawa for 6 months. The draft would further request a report on the humanitarian impact of “unilateral coercive measures” imposed on Syria. This relates to the sanctions that several countries including the USA and European states have imposed on Syria, however these countries say that humanitarian assistance is exempted from the sanctions.  Russian and Chinese want western countries to lift their sanctions on Syria in order to improve the humanitarian situation instead of continuing with the cross-border mechanism.

The draft resolution fails with only 4 positive votes, 7 votes against and 4 abstentions.

July 10th: The security Council votes on draft resolution S/2020/667 submitted by Belgium and Germany. This draft would renew the cross-border mechanism for both Bab al-Salaam and Bab al-Hawa, but only for 6 months. This would have bought some time to improve other routes of aid delivery before shutting down Bab al-Salaam.

This draft resolution receives 13 votes in favor but is not adopted because of the vetoes cast by both Russia and China.

Also July 10th: A second vote takes place on the same day on draft resolution  S/2020/683 submitted by Russia. Russia continues to insist that only the border crossing in Bab al-Hawa can remain open, but this draft resolution offers the “compromise” that it could be authorized for 12 months, instead of the 6 months that was proposed in Russia’s draft from July 8th. This draft still includes the request for a report on the “unilateral coercive measures”.

The draft resolution fails with only 4 positive votes, 7 votes against and 4 abstentions.

July 11th: The security Council votes on draft resolution S/2020/684 submitted by Belgium and Germany. This draft resolution follows Russia’s draft and includes an authorization only for Bab al-Hawa for 12 months. The difference to the previous proposal from Russia is that this draft does include the request for a report on unilateral coercive measures.

This minimal draft resolution finally passes with 12 votes in favor and 3 abstentions, including Russia and China.

Conclusion: After this long process, the Security Council finally succeeds in reauthorizing the Bab al-Hawa border crossing for 12 months. But at the same time millions of people lose access to humanitarian aid through the other border crossings. Without the veto, the Security Council would have been able to pass the first draft from 7th of July, which would have met the need of the Syrian people to a much larger degree. Or maybe they would have gone even further to reauthorize the border-crossing Al‑Yarubiya, which would have better addressed the need as it was outlined in the June 29th briefing.

As long as permanent members still use the veto to advance their own agenda, the Security Council will continue to deliver inadequate and disappointing results.

2020-08-27T17:00:50+02:00August 27th, 2020|Categories: Articles|

2019: Double vetoes by Russia and China

During 2019, three draft resolutions have been vetoed by both the Russian and China, resulting in a total of six vetoes during the year.

The first draft resolution (S/2019/186) was vetoed in February by Russia and China and related to the Venezuelan presidential crisis, which left the world divided in support for either Nicolás Maduro or Juan Guaidó. The draft resolution put forward by the United States requested the Secretary-General to ensure free and fair elections in Venezuela. This was a controversial draft, which only just reached the 9 required votes in favor. At the same time, Russia brought forward a different draft resolution, which did not call for new elections, but rather supported initiatives to reach a political solution initiated from the Maduro government and pointed out that international assistance should only be provided with the consent and invitation from the Venezuelan government. This draft resolution did not pass because it did not reach the 9 required votes in favor. This situation is reminiscent of other instances, including the Syrian conflict, where the Security Council fails to act, because Russia and China support non-interference against a sitting government that fails to protect its own people, while the United States and its allies want to step in more directly.

It should also be noted that these were the first vetoes concerning a country in Central America since the Chinese veto regarding Guatemala in 1997. It remains to be seen if this is an indication that the deep divisions within the Security Council may be expanding to other geographical areas than the Middle East, which is the region that has seen the most vetoes in recent years.

The year continued with two vetoed draft resolutions in September (S/2019/756) and December (S/2019/961) regarding the situation in Syria. The failed draft resolutions called for a cease fire and for continued access for the delivery of humanitarian aid. This increases the tally of vetoed draft resolutions regarding the war in Syria to 14. All of those 14 have been vetoed by Russia, with the backing of a Chinese veto in 8 instances. The ongoing tragedy in Syria is a prime example of how the illegitimate veto prevents effective action of the Security Council.

Compared to 2018, we have the same number of vetoed draft resolutions, namely three, but we have twice as many vetoes, because Russia and China consistently voted together. The USA has not vetoed in 2019, however this may only be due to controversial draft resolutions by Russia not reaching the required majority regardless of the United States negative votes. The vetoes of 2019 illustrate the continued and possibly increasing rift between Russia and China on the one side, and the rest of the Council on the other side. It remains to be seen if this trend continues in the future.

2020-05-10T14:30:13+02:00May 10th, 2020|Categories: Articles|

The vetoes of 2018: Indications for optimism?

Three illegitimate vetoes have been cast in the Security Council in 2018, all of these have regarded the Middle East, and have undermined the effectiveness of the Council in its own way.

On 26 February 2018, the draft resolution on the Yemen sanctions regime (S/2018/156) was vetoed by the Russian Federation.

The 10 April 2018, a resolution (S/2018/321) was proposed to launch an independent investigation on chemical weapons usage in Syria. This was vetoed, again, by the Russian Federation and is remembered as the sixth resolution of this kind which has been blocked by Russia.

Finally, on the 1 June 2018, a resolution was proposed to function as unitary statements by the Security council on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (S/2018/516). This resolution was blocked by the USA. 

The year marks a clear decrease in the number of vetoes cast, compared to last year. Although, one should take note that 2017 had a larger amount (6) than the prior 2000s as a whole and with this in mind, the number of vetoes have not decreased dramatically in the longer period. 

One should remember that the current situation in the UNSC has not been ignored by the General Assembly. Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés (Ecuador), stated in November this year, that “the Council must adapt to new political realities, with increased representation boosting its legitimacy and the implementation of its decisions”. This was backed up by the representative of Sierra Leone, which speaks on behalf of the African Group that “most issues discussed in the 15‑member organ are related to this continent. Its 54 nations must be involved in decisions concerning not only international peace and security, but its own very continent” . Africa demands no more, and no less than two permanent seats in the UNSC, which includes the veto power. Some members of the assembly called for the abolishment of the veto power in the UNSC.

The call for regulation of the veto power is not something new for the UNSC, nor the General Assembly. But, whether or not these calls for change will translate into actual regulations‒only 2019 can tell.  

United Nations, November 20th 2018. “
Member States Call for Removing Veto Power, Expanding Security Council to Include New Permanent Seats, as General Assembly Debates Reform Plans for 15-Member Organ”. Available at: https://www.un.org/press/en/2018/ga12091.doc.htm

2018-12-31T11:07:03+01:00December 31st, 2018|Categories: Articles|

Summary of 2017’s Vetoes

Looking back at the year of 2017 is a rather gloomy enterprise for those who disapprove of illegitimate vetoes. A large number of resolutions, touching upon various pressing issues have been stopped in the UN Security Council on grounds which are not legitimate. This in a time when the world stands before large challenges which only can be dealt with through cooperation and dialogue. However, 2017 was also the first year under which a ‘legitimate veto’ was cast. In total, six vetoes have been cast, five of which have been ‘illegitimate’ and one which is, as mentioned, coded as ‘legitimate.’

2017 has been a year filled with illegitimate vetoes. These vetoes – all of which have regarded Syria – have blocked all potential cooperation in order to solve the Syrian crisis. Some of the blocked resolutions have been aimed to prevent the use of chemical weapons in Syria, thus decrease the suffering of the Syrian population.

The Syrian Civil War is entering its seventh year in 2018, and still there is no resolution in sight. Alliances between the domestic, regional and international actors grow increasingly complex and already an estimated 250,000 Syrians have been killed. The main issue discussed in the Security Council has been the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians. Resolutions have been presented by the Western powers – the US, the UK and France – which are to curtail Assad’s financial assets and punish this violation of humanitarian law. Other resolutions have aimed to continue with the investigations in Syria of further alleged use of chemical weapons. The UN’s watchdog for these issues, OPCW (Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) has presented a number of reports to the Security Council, suggesting the Assad has used chemical weapons during 2017. All action has been prevented by the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China. They have casted their vetoes a number of times since the beginning of 2017. The lack of action from the UNSC caused a further escalation during the summer, when the US launched a missile strike in response to an attack from the regime with chemical weapons. The use of veto for the purpose of national interests has blocked attempts to cooperate in order to find a peaceful solution, and thus the Syrian Civil War seems far from resolution.

2017 also saw the first veto which is coded according to our definition as ‘legitimate.’ It was cast by the United States as a response to a resolution put forward by Egypt. The resolution aimed to curtail the American embassy’s diplomatic status, following the Trump Administration’s decision to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel-Aviv. The argument was made that this threatened American sovereignty. Since a country has the right to decide where to put its embassy, this argument was well-founded, and conflicted with American sovereignty. Thus, for the first time, the result was a legitimate veto.

Despite the fact that we could see the first legitimate veto since this campaign started, 2017 still has been a tragic year. Primarily for the Syrian people. It is time for the influential countries to take responsibility for the dysfunctional Security Council.

2018-03-15T22:09:05+01:00March 15th, 2018|Categories: Articles|

UN Day Celebrated with 2017’s Fourth Veto

The celebrations of the UN day on October 24 saw a disappointing occasion in the organization’s history. Once again, a resolution on the Syrian Civil War was vetoed by the Russian Federation. For the fourth time in 2017, a veto has been cast in the UN security council.

The resolution regarded, as in all other cases this year, Syria. Following the reported use of chemical weapons in Syria in 2015, the UN security council created the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) together with the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). At that point in time, all 15 members of the security council voted for the resolution. In 2016, the investigation by JIM was prolonged for a year and continued to report to the security council about the usage of chemical weapons in Syria.

However, this week the investigation came to an end when the Russian Federation cast its veto against the resolution prolonging the investigation mandate. The United States’ ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, expressed her criticism, claiming that there were no limits for Russia’s dedication to keep its ally, Bashar al-Assad in power. The Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia responded to this by stating that Russia desired to see the report put forward by JIM on October 26, before prolonging the mandate.

Last time OPCW came with a report on the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons, in June this year, the United States responded with missile attacks on regime air bases.

Consequences following this week’s veto are that as of now, there is no investigation regarding usage of chemical weapons in Syria. Moreover, it has become much easier to get away with using chemical weapons since the watchdog on the ground in Syria has been removed.



“Russia vetoes UN resolution on Syria chemical attack probe” The Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/10/24/russia-vetoes-un-resolution-syria-chemical-attack-probe/

Image source:

Private image, John Nellfors

2017-12-29T12:07:50+01:00October 26th, 2017|Categories: Articles|

Security Council Agrees on North Korea – too little, too late?

Throughout 2016 and so far during 2017, the number of North Korean missile tests has increased – and with those increasing numbers, tensions have risen as well. On the Korean peninsula, following North Korean missiles plunging into the territorial waters of Japan and South Korea, the United States and its president have responded with threatening choice of language. On August 6, the UN Security Council acted on the North Korean issue, imposing new, extensive, sanctions on the Communist dictatorship. However, these new sanctions have provoked new threats from Pyongyang.

On July 4, the North Korean leadership in Pyongyang claimed to have for the first time succeeded in testing one of their Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM), capable of reaching American territory. Following this dangerous development in the region, the UN Security Council held a meeting where it was agreed that new sanctions were to be imposed. That the People’s Republic of China complied with these new sanctions was vital, due to the country’s veto powers and since they often are considered an ally to Kim Jong-un. After the UNSC’s decision, more threats were made from North Korea, directed towards primarily the United States, and its military base on the island Guam in the Pacific Ocean. This sparked anger in Washington, and President Donald Trump threatened North Korea with ‘fire and fury’ if North Korea further provoked the US. Currently the situation is at a tense standstill.

Sanctions have been imposed earlier on North Korea, however, the issue has also been a major platform of disagreement; primarily between the United States and China. One could ask whether more decisive action earlier from the UNSC might have contributed to a less volatile and dangerous situation in North East Asia. If North Korea has acquired weapons of mass destruction, these new sanctions could continue to destabilize the situation. The Security Council must henceforth stay unified and work together to solve the situation, putting national politics aside.


CNN: http://edition.cnn.com/2017/08/05/asia/north-korea-un-sanctions/index.html

BBC: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-1739984

Image source:
Private Picture, John Nellfors

2017-12-29T12:08:22+01:00August 21st, 2017|Categories: Articles|

Russian Veto Regarding Syria

Syria constituted, last week, a source of great friction in the Security Council. Russia cast its veto on a resolution regarding action against Syria’s leader al-Assad following use of chemical weapons by the regime.

Last week, the UN Security Council once again met to vote on a resolution dealing with the civil war in Syria. The situation changed last week with yet another attack with chemical weapons by the Syrian regime against its population. Even American president Trump changed his administration’s stance on Syria’s al-Assad following the attack, from being unwilling to intervene in the conflict, to launching 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at an army airfield outside Damascus.

The resolution put forward by the United States, the United Kingdom and France based on observations of OPCW (Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons), was to punish al-Assad for breaching the resolution 2118 (from 2013) where al-Assad were to destroy all his stockpiles of chemical weapons. However, the resolution did not pass this time either. The Russian envoy to the UN argued that the resolution “failed to serve any useful purpose.” This decision attracted criticism from fellow UN members such as Ukraine.

This is the eighth time Russia has cast its veto to protect Syria’s leader al-Assad from UN action. The use of the veto and Russia’s desire to keep al-Assad in his place has paralyzed the UN from acting, and constitutes a tragedy for the Syrian people.


United Nations, April 12th 2017. ‘Security Council Fails to Adopt Resolution Condemning Chemical Weapons Use in Syria, Following Veto by Russian Federation. Available at: http://www.un.org/press/en/2017/sc12791.doc.htm

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2017-12-29T12:09:03+01:00April 19th, 2017|Categories: Articles|

Russia and China cast the first vetoes of 2017

An old, and previously discussed question becomes current again, with China and Russia using their veto to stop yet another resolution concerning al-Assad’s use of banned chemical weapons.

Several reports have been published by various agencies concerning the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war. In September 2016, for instance, the UN’s watchdog regarding chemical weapons – the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) – reported that the Syrian regime, alongside such groups as the so-called Islamic State had been using chlorine gas, among other prohibited chemical weapons (see Report on chemical weapons causes Security Council frictions, Sept. 4th, 2016). Any action, however, from the UN against this use of chemical weapons, was blocked by Russia and China, who have ties to the regime in Damascus.

A week ago, yet another resolution in the Security Council was stopped by the use of the veto. For the seventh time since the Syrian Civil War started in 2011, Russia has used its veto right to prevent any sanctions or UN actions directed towards President al-Assad. Despite the fact that President al-Assad agreed on destroying all chemical weapons back in 2013, OPCW has found evidence on the use of chemical weapons by governmental forces three times since then. The resolution put forward on Tuesday, February 28th, would, if voted through, have banned the sale of helicopters to Syria and led to sanctions against multiple Syrian officials. According to Russia’s UN delegation, the veto was cast due to “suspicious sources” in the report about chemical weapons, and that it “undermined” the current peace attempts in Kazakhstan, orchestrated by the Russians. The Chinese delegation motivated its decision by their unwillingness to lose “momentum in the peace process.”

However, this use of the veto power from Russia and China to prevent any action against the Syrian regime, puts the international community in a paralyzed state, unable to act against human rights violations. Besides the tradegy of the suffering of the Syrian people, this behavoir further risks starting a trend where the use of chemical weapons by other states can go unpunished if they have the “right” allies within the Security Council. Such a scenario would deplete any work against such weapons, leaving them effectless.




UN Press: https://www.un.org/press/en/2017/sc12737.doc.htm

BBC News: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-39116854


Image source:

Private picture, John Nellfors

2017-12-29T12:09:38+01:00March 6th, 2017|Categories: Articles|

New reports of mass atrocities in Syria unlikely to have consequences

Reports from Amnesty and Human Rights Watch in the last weeks tell of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by the Syrian government against oppositional rebels and civilians, but the government are unlikely to face repercussions, thanks to the protection of Russia’s veto.

On the 7th of February, Amnesty released a report detailing the extrajudicial executions by hanging carried out by the Syrian government at Saydnaya Prison. Between 2011 and 2015, groups of 50 people were hanged once or twice a week. As many as 13 000 people may have died at Saydnaya Prison in this manner, most of them civilians opposed to the government. The report also details the use of torture and systematic deprevation of food, water, medicine and medical care, creating inhuman conditions for the prisoners.

The following week, Human Rights Watch released a report showing that Syrian government forces used chemical weapons in the final weeks of the campaign to retake Aleppo from rebels. The report shows that helicopters dropped chlorine in residential areas on at least eight occasions in November and December 2016. The attacks took place in areas where government forces were planning to advance, indicated that they were part of the military strategy to retake Aleppo and not carried out by rogue elements. At least nine civilians, including four children, died from the attacks, and more than 200 were injured.

These reports clearly show that crimes against humanity and war crimes are being committed by the Syrian government. However, those responsible are unlikely to face repercussions. Syria is not a state party to the International Criminal Court. Therefore, a decision by the United Nations Security Council to refer the situation to the court is necessary for it to investigate the situation. On a number of occasions, Russia has used its veto to block such a referral, and that is likely to happen again if a draft resolution is put forward.

Before Christmas, the United Nations General Assembly established an investigative body to collect, consolidate, preserve, and analyze evidence of war crimes and human rights abuses in Syria, in preparation for future criminal proceedings. Such criminal proceedings are unlikely to be initiated in the near future, but may be possible at some time in the future. Until then, Syrian civilians continue to suffer the crimes their government is committing.

2017-12-29T12:10:31+01:00February 15th, 2017|Categories: Articles|
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