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Seventieth United Nations General Assembly/ministerial meeting on regulation of the use of the veto

Published on October 2, 2015
Speech by Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development (excerpts)
New York, September 30, 2015

Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues,

I’m delighted to welcome so many of you to this meeting. As I speak, 70 countries have already signed our joint initiative, which represents significant progress. I’m delighted to welcome so many of you to this meeting on regulation of the use of the veto which we have organized, notably together with my Mexican colleague and friend, Claudia, whom I would like to warmly thank.

This is how we are going to organize our meeting. First of all, we will listen to two panelists: Mr Sidiki Kaba, Minister of Justice of Senegal, and President of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and Mr Kenneth Roth, who is the executive director of Human Rights Watch, whom I would like to thank. (…)

And then, after the speeches delivered by Claudia and our two panellists, we will give the floor to some of you – please be kind to us – according to a predetermined sequence. I hope there won’t be any exceedingly serious diplomatic incidents. But we can’t give the floor to everyone; each speaker can only speak for a maximum of two minutes. I will essentially try and stick to this rule myself.

I recall that two years ago here during the UN General Assembly, the French President proposed – and this is the basis of our initiative – that the permanent members of the Security Council should voluntarily and collectively undertake not to use the veto in cases of mass atrocity.

Quite simply because we cannot resign ourselves to the Security Council’s paralysis when mass atrocities are committed, and we see this in numerous situations, including in Syria. The main idea is that the veto isn’t a privilege, it’s a responsibility.
At the time, this proposal was – I’m looking for the diplomatic term – politely – because we are very polite – received, albeit with a great deal of scepticism. There are now 70 nations, 70 countries around the world which have clearly expressed their support by signing the declaration that we are presenting today. And others will join us over the next few days. So we must work hard to convince the others to go further. As you know, the content [of this initiative] is a collective, voluntary commitment by the permanent members and thus does not entail amending the Charter. The Charter should in fact be amended, but that’s such a complicated process that we want to deal with this point effectively.

We are also asking the UN Secretary-General to make a ruling, after hearing the opinion of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, among others, after the matter has been heard by a number of member states, say 50. In addition – and there have been a variety of comments on this – we have proposed an exception for vital interests, to reassure those permanent members which are not necessarily very enthusiastic. That was suggested in particular by Kofi Annan and the Elders.

And as there is still no consensus among the Council’s permanent members, we French decided to go further. Perhaps on Monday you heard the French President solemnly announce that we would not use our veto in cases of mass crimes. This was stated officially. We have made our commitment, and we think it is perfectly reasonable. I must add that by taking this strong decision, France offers its support for a very important initiative that complements our own, one presented by some 20 countries belonging to the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency group. By adhering to this code of conduct, each state pledges, should it become a member of the Security Council, not to vote against a “credible” resolution in cases of mass crimes. That should help – or at least we hope so – step up the pressure on those who are most concerned, i.e. the permanent members of the Security Council.

This move does not undermine the legitimacy of the Security Council. On the contrary, it is aimed at strengthening its legitimacy, which also involves, as we know, a necessary enlargement of the Security Council, and both France and Mexico support it fully.

Finally, I want to welcome the very many prominent figures who are here with us today. I cannot name you all, but if it is not embarrassing to her, I would like to mention in particular Mrs Amal Clooney, who was kind enough to join us, and who will be able to help us achieve this just cause in all the countries where she exerts influence.

Our cause does not end today; we must continue with our task of convincing others. We owe it first and foremost to the victims. Thank you./.

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