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Exercise of veto power in United Nations as a hindrance to international peace and security

By Aliyu Ibrahim, Ph.D.   It is estimated that about 60 million people were killed in the Second World War. To prevent the occurrence of…

By Aliyu Ibrahim, Ph.D.


It is estimated that about 60 million people were killed in the Second World War. To prevent the occurrence of such a horrific event, countries from all over the world came together and established a global organization known as the United Nations (UN) in 1945, with its main objective to maintain international peace and security. The UN currently has 193 member countries.

The establishment of the UN, resulted into the adoption of treaties that protect human rights, and regulate the art of warfare. In addition, there is prohibition of the targeting of civilian targets, including schools and hospitals to mention a few. Doing so could result in the commission of war crimes and other internationally recognised criminal acts.

Despite the UN having 193 members, the responsibility of the maintenance of international peace and security is largely vested on the 15 member UN Security Council (USA, UK, Russia, France and China are the  permanent members) and the other 10 are non-permanent members, and serve a two-year non-consecutive term. All UN members are expected to comply with Council decisions.

However, each of the five permanent members has a veto power, which allows it to single handedly block any decision or resolution of the Council, even if all the other members of the Council are in support.

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This power is absolute and unaccountable; it gives them an undue advantage over other countries, as they promote their state interests and that of their allies at the expense of those that are not in their good books and the UN system in general. An instance of this is the veto of the Russian resolution by the USA (an ally of Israel), which called for a 10 days humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, to allow for access to aid, release of all hostages and safe evacuation of civilians. The failure of the resolution has resulted in more anguish for the civilians trapped in Gaza, as Israel continues its air and ground assaults, with an estimated 7,326 civilians killed thus far. All basic services have been blocked by Israel, it has also shut down all forms of communications, and getting information of the carnage taking place in Gaza is currently difficult.

Ironically, The UN General Assembly also passed a resolution (which is non-binding) sponsored by Jordan, calling for a humanitarian ceasefire. 140 member countries voted in support of the resolution and 14 voted against with 45 abstaining. The singular veto power of the USA has blocked all humanitarian ceasefire efforts of the rest of the world, and Gaza is left at the mercy of the Israelis, who it appears are not going to be held accountable for their actions due to the protection afforded by the USA.

Allowing the big 5 to continue exercising veto power as at when they see fit, has increased the need for reforming the UN system, as the countries use the power to protect their interests and that of their allies, and not for the overall interest of international peace and security.

Interestingly, the US and other western countries promote democracy around the world, impose sanctions on countries that refuse to allow for democratic governance, while their exercise of veto power is undemocratic and goes against all the tenets of justice, which is a threat to international peace and security.

Consequently, for the UN to continue to be relevant in the future, there is need to scrap veto powers of the permanent members, and allow resolutions to be passed on the mantra of one country one vote. Anything less, would reduce the UN to the level of a talk shop, and nothing more.

Ibrahim wrote from the Faculty of Law, Umaru Musa Yar’adua University, Katsina State

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