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Could the UN Security Council do more to stop conflicts?

The body has faced criticism from the outgoing head of the UN’s human rights wing over its inability to stop conflict and save lives.

Outgoing U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay
Outgoing U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay
Image: Paul Schemm/AP/Press Association Images

THE UNITED NATION’S outgoing rights chief leveled harsh criticism at the Security Council yesterday, saying the top world body too often lacked resolve to end conflicts and save lives.

Navi Pillay, who steps down in the coming days as UN Human Rights Commissioner after six years, said national interests often trumped human suffering when the council weighed action to put an end to wars.

“There has not always been a firm and principled decision by members to put an end to crises,” Pillay said in a swansong address to the 15-member council.

“I firmly believe that greater responsiveness by this council would have saved hundreds of lives.”

The UN Security Council is made up of five permanent members, Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, and ten temporary members who hold their seats for two year terms. For a motion to pass it must be approved by two thirds of council members.

In addition to this, the five permanent states all hold veto power over votes. This has seen permanent member protecting their own interests. Despite international pressure, the United States have repeatedly vetoed resolutions on Israel’s action in Gaza.

In May, Russia and China vetoed a draft resolution that would have allowed the International Criminal Court to investigate war crimes committed during the Syrian conflict.

South African-born Pillay said the use of vetoes to block measures was a “short-term and ultimately counter-productive tactic”, and urged the powers to develop a “broader conception of national interest.”

In his address, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon complained that a failure to overcome divisions and a slow response “can be measured in terrible loss of life” and loss of credibility for the UN.

Ban called for a “new era of collaboration, cooperation and action from the Security Council”.

The sober assessment of the council’s weaknesses came as the 15 members unanimously adopted a resolution on stepping up conflict prevention, giving Ban more authority to work on de-escalating tensions before they reach the boiling point.

The council has been grappling with full-blown crises over the past weeks in Iraq, Syria, Gaza, South Sudan, Ukraine and the Central African Republic, among others.

“The Security Council was designed to be a smoke detector, and not just a fire extinguisher,” British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told the council after the vote.

© AFP 2014

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