ACT group holds high-level event on proposed Security Council Code of Conduct

by Jessica Kroenert
15 October 2015

On 1 October 2015, the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein hosted a high-level ministerial event on “The Code of Conduct regarding Security Council action against genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes” on behalf of the Accountability, Coherence, and Transparency (ACT) Group. Over 100 Member States were in attendance, many of whom made statements, including three of the five permanent (P5) members of the Security Council: France, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The Foreign Minister of Liechtenstein, Aurelia Frick, introduced the Code of Conduct as a "voluntary political commitment" to which any Member State could agree as a current or potential future member of the UN Security Council. She emphasized the complementary relationship between the ACT Code of Conduct, which serves as a guideline to all member states, and the France-Mexico joint political declaration for restraint in the use of the veto in cases of mass atrocity, which, by its nature, can only apply to P5 states. By agreeing to the Code of Conduct, Member States pledge to support timely Security Council action to prevent genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, and to not vote against credible draft resolutions to prevent or end such situations.

The three other panelists of the event were Guatemala, New Zealand, and Human Rights Watch. Guatemala's statement emphasized how the Code of Conduct complements Responsibility to Protect obligations as well as the International Criminal Court (ICC) in regards to prevention and response efforts to mass atrocity conflicts. New Zealand discussed how during their current membership on the Security Council, especially during their presidency of the Council two months ago, they have been active in working to improve the working methods of the Council, particularly in the face of the two Russian vetoes during their term. Human Rights Watch called attention to the issue of the threat of veto, which has often been successful in preventing a Security Council vote from taking place on certain issues; notably in the cases of Sudan, Israel, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. These examples were cited as reasons why the Code of Conduct serves as an important complement to the France-Mexico veto restraint proposal, and helped underscore the call for leadership from non-permanent members to take prompt action on these initiatives.

After the panelists made their statements, several other Member States and civil society groups also spoke. Common talking points included expressions of support for both the Code of Conduct and the France-Mexico joint political declaration, insistence on the importance of these initiatives for the protection of civilians and the legitimacy of the Security Council, and condemnation of the misuse and threat of the veto in cases of mass atrocities, especially in the recent case of Syria. Notably, Ambassador Rycroft of the United Kingdom expressed his country's support for the initiative, urging all other members of the Security Council to join as well, and asking their reasoning should they be unable to do so. By the end of the event, three Member States--Croatia, Benin, and Czech Republic--had announced their support for the Code of Conduct, increasing the total number of supporters from 56 to 59.

Member States who spoke expressing support for the ACT Code of Conduct included Switzerland, Estonia, Slovenia, Croatia, Spain, Qatar, Norway, Ukraine, France, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Hungary, Georgia, the United Kingdom, Benin, Chile, Japan, Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand, Singapore, Finland, Australia, Sweden, Latvia. The United States also spoke, but without expressing explicit support of the Code of Conduct. In addition to these Member States, three civil society organizations also spoke in favor of the Code: Human Rights Watch, the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect, and the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect.

For the full text of each proposal, please see links below.
ACT Group Code of Conduct: English, French, Spanish
France-Mexico Political Declaration: English, French