The following includes extracts from an article published by UNA-UK. Read the full article here.
For the first time in 40 years, the Security Council called for an Emergency Special Session (ESS) of the UN General Assembly on the situation in Ukraine. The meeting was held on 28 February and can be seen in the video below.
The vote to refer the situation to the General Assembly could not be vetoed by Russia since it is deemed to be a procedural matter, meaning there is no veto power. The decision to take this route, named “Uniting for Peace”, comes after Russia vetoed a resolution put forward by America and Albania, co-sponsored by 82 states. The UK and 10 others voted in favour; China, India and the UAE abstained.
One of the main things the General Assembly can do is demonstrate the weight of global opinion against Russia’s actions. A global condemnation of the invasion, outlining that it is in clear breach of international law and the UN Charter, will demonstrate the diplomatic costs of Russia’s actions and increase pressure for an end to the invasion. The resolution could also be used to invalidate President Putin’s justification for the war by stating there was no imminent danger to justify pre-emptive self defence (which is in any case a dubious justification) and that any military action to protect populations in Eastern Ukraine (even if such a threat were real which has not been demonstrated) would require a Security Council authorisation.
This is important because, beyond the immediate situation, President Putin’s actions should not be used to establish a new principle or “norm” that condones strong regional powers using force to control their “sphere of influence”. If the General Assembly overwhelmingly rejects this notion then it may dissuade other nations from taking similar actions in the future.
Beyond that, “Uniting for Peace” empowers the General Assembly to pass “recommendations for collective measures”. These are not “binding” resolutions such as the ones passed by the Security Council, but they carry greater symbolic weight than standard General Assembly Resolutions.
The resolution deplored “in the strongest terms the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine”. It demanded that “the Russian Federation immediately cease its use of force against Ukraine” and “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces”.
The result of the debate was that 141 of 193 UN member states voted for the resolution, 35 states abstained and five voted against, namely, the Russian Federation, Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea and Syria. The resolution is not legally binding but it shows the company to which the Russian Federation now belongs.