UNSC Code of Conduct

UN Security Council Code of Conduct

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Since the adoption of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) in 2005, permanent members of the Security Council (known as the "P5") have used their vetoes 14 times in situations where atrocities either occurred or were at risk/suspected of occurring. Permanent members often threaten to use the veto in atrocity situations, which curtails even discussing taking action. As of March 2017, the veto was used eight times on resolutions on Syria, three times on Palestine, and once each on Bosnia and Herzegovina. For a full list of Security Council vetoes, click here.

The idea that the P5 has a "responsibility not to veto" in situations of mass atrocities has been gaining traction over the past few years. Over 120 governments - in addition to two UN observer missions - have supported calls for veto restraint or a code of conduct. Additionally, since 2005, the UN Secretary-General, Deputy-Secretary-General, High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Advisers for Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect have all called for voluntary restraint of the veto in mass atrocity situations. For the list of member states in support of limiting the use of the veto, click here

This summary also collates references made to restraint on the use of the veto by member states in various UN fora between 2008 and 2015.

There are currently two initiatives within the UN Membership that hope to ensure the Security Council takes timely and decisive action to prevent or respond to atrocity situations.


Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) Group Code of Conduct

The Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) Group is a group of 27 states working to improve the working methods of the UN Security Council. In July 2015, the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) Group proposed a "Code of Conduct regarding Security Council action against genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes," which calls upon all members of the Security Council (both permanent and elected) to not vote against any credible draft resolution intended to prevent or halt mass atrocities. As of 19 April 2018, the Code of Conduct has been signed by 114 member states and 2 observers.

ACT Code of conduct regarding Security Council action against genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes
(Also available in French and Spanish)

List of Signatories to the ACT Code of Conduct

ACT Code of Conduct Explanatory Note


France/Mexico Initiative

Veto restraint in atrocity situations was first suggested by French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine in 2001 and later announced again by President François Hollande in his address to the UN General Assembly in 2013. In 2015, France and Mexico launched a declaration which aims to obtain an agreement among the Security Council's Permanent Members to voluntarily refrain from using their vetoes in situations of atrocity crimes. It is open for all member states to support. As of 27 June 2017, the Political Declaration is supported by 96 member states.

Political Declaration on Suspension of Veto Powers in Cases of Mass Atrocities
(also available in French)