Security Council

Council discusses situation concerning Iraq.
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

As the organ with primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, the Security Council plays a key role in the implementation of the responsibility to protect principle, particularly pillars II and III of the principle. The Security Council is responsible, for example, for responding to early warnings provided by the Secretary-General or presented by other organs, engaging in the prevention and resolution of disputes, mandating peace operations to provide different types of support aimed at maintaining peace and stability and protecting civilians, and preventing or halting armed conflict and other forms of violence. As the perpetration of atrocity crimes presents a threat to peace and security and usually occurs in a context of armed conflict, the Security Council has a responsibility to take collective action to prevent and halt atrocity crimes, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly failing to protect their populations against those crimes. Collective action can assume a coercive or non-coercive form, according to the tools available under Chapter VI, VII and VIII of the United Nations Charter.

The Security Council has adopted some 50 resolutions and presidential statements that refer to the responsibility to protect in relation to country situation of concern and thematic issues, in this way promoting and strengthening the principle (click here for a list compiled by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect). Support for the principle and the Special Advisers on the Prevention and Genocide and on the Responsibility to Protect has also been expressed in stronger terms and with increasing frequency in recent years by the Security Council - S/RES/2250 (2015), S/RES/2150 (2014); S/RES/2171 (2014). In addition, several resolutions authorizing United Nations peace operations have specifically emphasized the need to support national authorities in upholding their responsibility to protect. These include S/RES/1975 (2011); S/RES/1996 (2011); S/RES/2085 (2012); S/RES/2121 (2013).

On 14 December 2015, Spain and Chile convened the first Arria Formula meeting of the Security Council dedicated to the responsibility to protect. Focused on “The Responsibility to Protect and non-state actors,” the meeting considered how the Security Council should best employ and adapt its existing tools to respond to the emerging challenges posed by non-State armed groups that have embraced the use of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity as a strategy for advancing their political objectives. Check the remarks presented by the Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect.

Over the past few years, there has been growing momentum around calls for the Members of the Security Council to voluntarily refrain from using the veto when responding to situations where there is a risk of atrocity crimes, or where these crimes are ongoing. Two initiatives led by Member States have gained momentum in recent years. In 2013, France presented a proposal to the UN General Assembly to limit the use of the veto power by the permanent members of the UN Security Council in situations of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Two ministerial meetings were subsequently organised by France and Mexico to discuss the matter. At the 70th session of the UN General Assembly in 2015, the two countries presented a “Political statement on the suspension of the veto in case of mass atrocities” for signature by the membership of the organisation. In July 2015, the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) Group launched a “Code of Conduct regarding Security Council action against genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes”. The Code of Conduct calls on all 15 members of the UN Security Council not to vote against any credible draft resolution intended to prevent or halt atrocity crimes. Discussions on both proposals are on-going and a high number of States have supported both.