The Effect of the United States’ and Russia’s Veto Power on the UN Security Council’s Ability to Protect Human Rights

Dr. Marcia Denny
Visiting Assistant Professor – Public International Law KILAW


This paper examines whether the exercise of the veto power by the United States and Russia, in recent times, has inhibited or limited the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in the performance of its mandated functions. In particular, the paper focuses on whether the veto action of these permanent UNSC members has, in fact, caused a continuation of, if not exacerbation of, human rights abuses or humanitarian crises in Syria and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
United Nations leaders, including Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein of Jordan, have emphasized that the exercise and enforcement of human rights guarantees are essential for international peace and security to be achieved. They recognize that human rights protection must be obtained through the enforcement actions of the United Nations Security Council. If the Council is unable or unwilling to act in the face of mass atrocities as a result of the use of the veto power of the permanent five members, then the Council itself becomes an actor in the perpetuation of those atrocities.
The paper looks briefly at the mandate for human rights protection contained within the UN Charter, including a brief summary of the Charter organs’ obligations in this regard. Primary focus is on the UN Security Council’s obligation to secure and maintain international peace and whether or not that entails the duty to protect human rights. With that in mind, an analysis of the way in which the UNSC’s permanent members use the veto power ensues. An examination of why they use the veto and with what result is undertaken, particularly as to Russia in Syria and the United States in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (also referred to as Palestine herein).
In addition, currently advanced solutions to the veto-power dilemma will be briefly analyzed including – (1) renewed application of the obligatory abstention rule of UN Charter Article 27, paragraph 3; (2) voluntary veto abstention as an obligation of the P5 in situations involving genocide and large-scale human rights abuses in coordination with the responsibility to protect; and (3) renewed use of the UN General Assembly’s Uniting for Peace Resolution No. 377A of November 3, 1950.

Read Full PDF Text (English)