Gaza, United Nations, UN Charter, Humanitarian Law, International Law, UNSC.
By Chinedu Onwe
On the 6th of December 2023, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, invoked Article 99 of the UN Charter. In a statement published on his official X (formerly known as Twitter) account, in addition to his decision to invoke the provision of the UN Charter, Guterres stated that “facing a severe risk of collapse of the humanitarian system in Gaza, I urge the Council to help avert a humanitarian catastrophe & appeal for a humanitarian ceasefire to be declared”.
With the eye of the international community focused on the crisis in Gaza, this development raises a lot of eyebrows, particularly concerning its meaning, significance and/or relevance to the ongoing issue in Gaza. There is also the question of how this could play out; ‘would it positively or negatively affect the situation of things?’ one could ask. With a lot of politics in place, it is not completely out of the question to wonder how this invocation and the provision of this article will affect the position of international law and politics concerning the ongoing crisis in Gaza.
A detailed yet concise analysis would offer a clear explanation of all that is needed to ensure a complete grasp of the situation, especially given the invocation of this article of the UN Charter.
Article 99 of the UN Charter – Meaning and Significance
According to the UN Charter, Article 99 provides that “the Secretary-General may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and s By this provision, the Secretary-General, is the ‘watchdog’ of international security with the powers of reporting to the council any or every scenario where such international peace and security is being threatened. As far as the law goes, only the Secretary-General of the UN can invoke this particular Article of the UN Charter.
Interestingly, since the inception of the United Nations in 1945, Article 99 has only been invoked on six different occasions by the Secretary-General at that period. They include:
Trygve Lie, for the situation on the Korean peninsula in 1950;
Dag Hammarskjöld, for the Congo Crisis in 1960, and the Situation in Tunisia in 1961;
U Thant, for the situation in East Pakistan vis-à-vis the adjourning Indian States 1971;
Kurt Waldheim, for the situation in Cyprus 1974, the situation in Lebanon 1976, the situation in Iran 1979, and the situation between Iran and Iraq 1980.
Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, for the situation between Iran and Iraq in 1987, and the situation in Lebanon in 1989; and
António Guterres, for the situation in Gaza 2023.
Article 99 holds relevance in the sense that it formally brings the attention of the United Nations Security Council to an issue or series of issues that deserve immediate and adequate action, given the powers and authority (ies) of the Council.
Procedure and Politics
The invocation of Article 99 of the UN Charter, through a letter, would result in a meeting of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) where the matter will be discussed and addressed accordingly, and a resolution reached and voted on. But while this remains a rather seamless (at least on the face of it) procedure, the politics of the international community is one ‘block’ that it would come face-to-face with.
The call for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza is viewed from a separate perspective by the various parties interested (directly or indirectly in the crisis). For instance, the United Arab Emirates, on behalf of the Arab League, could very well support the push for a resolution for a humanitarian ceasefire, which would be supported by key allies among the ‘P5’ (Permanent members of the UNSC) like Russia and closely China. However, this resolution could be vetoed by other members like the United States, who remain a strong ally of Israel (who see this as an opportunity to eradicate the presence of Hamas). At the end of the day, the resolution could be sent to the General Assembly, where more debates may be raised with little or no actions.
On the other hand, there have been accusations against the UN for siding with Palestine and taking no cognizance of the fact that Israel has suffered serious, irreparable damages since the advent of this recent chain of events on October 7th. In reaction to the invocation made by the UN Secretary-General, the Foreign Minister of Israel, Eli Cohen, made this accusation known, stating that the term of the UN Secretary-General is ‘a danger to world peace’.
At the end of the day, while the invocation of Article 99 of the UN Charter signifies a call for urgent action, it lays cold and ultimately ‘dies’ on the altar of politics, seeing as its reception and approval is subject to the international politics of the time.
Recommendations and Conclusion
The restructuring of the UNSC cannot be overemphasized. While the existence of the ‘P5’ and the power of the ‘thumb’ they possess may be attributed to such a time when the world needed a system of control on the international level, the time has come for a more accommodating practice that would see that such powers do not stand in the way of international law procedures such as this.
Given the prevalent variables involved in politics today, it is almost impossible to see a situation or scenario where all members concerned would wholly adopt a resolution without any of them exercising the veto power. The world cannot continue to suffer setbacks and rely on warring parties to resolve their differences while lives and properties are destroyed on a biblical scale.
The need to rely on diplomacy and alternative dispute measures to resolve issues or conflicts of this magnitude remains an alternative to the failure of the status quo.
(2) António Guterres on X: "I've just invoked Art.99 of the UN Charter…” https://x.com/antonioguterres/status/1732457928496496793?s=20 accessed on 7/12/2023
Chapter 3 Section 10b | unsc-procedure https://www.scprocedure.org/chapter-3-section-10b accessed on 7/12/2023
Israeli FM accuses UN head of backing Hamas after he uses rare clause to urge truce | The Times of Israel https://www.timesofisrael.com/israeli-fm-accuses-un-head-of-backing-hamas-after-use-of-rare-clause-to-urgetruce/ accessed on 7/12/2023
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