Britain must back calls for countries in the United Nations security council to give up their veto on cases of alleged mass atrocities, genocide and war crimes, the former foreign secretary David Miliband has said.
Miliband, now the president of the New York-based NGO, International Rescue Committee, said he supported a proposal from France that would suspend the power of the US, China, the UK, France and Russia to block action in these cases. He called on the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, to back the measure.
He said there was now a “system failure” in the international humanitarian system that had combined with the Covid pandemic and climate change to fuel unprecedented rises in global hunger, poverty and refugee numbers.
“I support the French proposal,” Miliband told the Observer. “The UK veto in the security council is a very powerful tool for the UK and the other permanent members of the security council. But in debates involving mass atrocity, the veto and threat of veto prevents diplomacy and fuels dangerous conflicts.
“I think the UK should support the French proposal, now supported by 100 other countries, to abandon the veto in the security council in cases of mass atrocity. In these cases, the veto and threat of veto does much more harm than good.”
The measure would avoid a repeat of situations in the past when Russia attempted to block UN investigations into chemical weapons attacks in Syria, and China prevented effective UN action against the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar. The French proposal has been co-signed by Mexico.
Russia has also used its veto in other areas. Last week, it used its veto against a UN security council resolution casting the climate crisis as a threat to international peace and security.
The vote sank a lengthy effort to make global heating more central to decision-making in the UN’s most powerful body, which had been championed by Ireland and Niger.
Miliband said use of the veto must be limited in the most serious cases.
“The veto is unjustifiable in cases of mass atrocity, and the threat of the veto strangles effective diplomacy in these cases,” said Miliband.
“The sidelining of the UN is a threat to global peace and security, and encourages the rise of impunity. If the UN security council was being created today, then the veto would not be granted to the five permanent members.
“But we cannot rewrite the past. We need a more effective security council today, not a thought experiment about yesterday.”