International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Amnesty International secretary general calls for P5 to stop using veto power

In an opinion piece in the New York Times, the secretary general of Amnesty International (AI), Salil Shetty, called on the permanent members of the security council to end the use of veto powers in “situations where mass atrocities are being committed.” Shetty noted the changing nature of conflicts – they no longer fall in within the borders of one country – and the frequency at which they are happening – AI tallied 18 countries in which war crimes were committed in 2014. While the situation is alarming, an end of the use of the veto power by the P5 seems to be an unattainable western ideal. Shetty notes that the two powers using the veto power irresponsibly in these scenarios are unsurprisingly China and Russia. In situations such as Syria and Ukraine, China and Russia wish to protect their own political interests. Is that not what the veto is for? Is that not what the US, the UK, and France have done in the past? It seems to be very a very one-sided demand. Shetty does note the US’ veto on a resolution to end conflict in Palestine. This is an incredible poignant example of the veto power working on both sides. It is very unlikely that what should happen – a true step forward for human rights and justice – will happen. It is also interesting to note cases such as ISIS. In cases where no true state allegiances lie, I think it is reasonable to demand an end to veto power. Shetty also says that governments have the capacity, if not the will, to “protect citizens in danger.” While this may theoretically be true, it is incredible unlikely to happen in the near future and captures the overly optimistic tone of the piece. If countries such as the US, the UK, and France really wish to circumvent China and Russia’s veto powers, they could do more than they are currently doing. The UN and the security council are not the be-all and end-all in regards to conflict resolution. It may be much more difficult, but there’s a point at which anything is better than nothing.

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One response to “Amnesty International secretary general calls for P5 to stop using veto power

  1. claregeyer February 27, 2015 at 10:17 am

    Salil Shetty seems to misunderstand the importance of the veto–without veto power, it is easily argued that none of the P5 — the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, or Russia — would be a willing and active supporter of the United Nations Security Council. Without their support and the important role that they play in the UN as a larger body, the United Nations could easily fall to the same forces as the League of Nations, becoming irrelevant and, ultimately, nonexistent.

    While the idealized notion of international intervention seems to hinge on an absence of veto power, Shetty understates the power of abstention. While no one disputes that the P5 often focus on their own interests when it becomes time to make a decision regarding a conflict, there are also plenty of instances in which the permanent members allow the Security Council to pass resolutions that they normally might oppose.

    Let’s look at the Libya case. Russia and China have regularly opposed the infringement of state sovereignty in all cases, often vetoing UNSC resolutions. Rather than doing the same in the case of the Gaddafi regime, the states chose to abstain, allowing the proposed intervention into the conflict to pass.

    While abstention seems, on the surface, to be a coward’s way out of making a decision, in reality it acts as an important diplomatic process. The key to successful intervention is not to call for abandoning the veto, but rather to encourage the P5 to exercise their right to abstain from a vote — allowing them to solidify their state partnerships while they protect endangered civilians.

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