A Veto from a Rogue State, What else?
By Arjan El Fassed, political scientist and human rights activist and affiliated with the Palestine Right to Return Coalition (PRRC) and The Electronic Intifada.
The United States used its veto power to kill a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have supported the creation of an international observer force to protect Palestinian civilians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza. By the terms of the draft, which received nine votes in favour and one against (United States), with four abstentions (France, Ireland, Norway, United Kingdom), the Council would have requested the Secretary-General to consult the parties -- Israel and the Palestinians -- on immediate steps to implement the resolution.

The question of the enforcement of international humanitarian law in the occupied territories cannot be viewed in isolation from developments in the enforcement of international humanitarian law in relation to the former Yugoslavia. The Security Council approach to the former Yugoslavia emerged in six stages.

In the first, Security Council resolution 757 (1992) reaffirmed the need "for effective protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms including those of minorities". SCR 764 (1994), the second stage, marked a significant shift in that it insisted that "persons who commit or order the commission of grave breaches of the Conventions are individually responsible in respect to such breaches". This was followed by SCR 771 (1992), which called upon states and other bodies to submit "substantiated information" to the Secretary-General, who would report to the Council "recommending additional measures that might be appropriate". In the fourth stage, SCR 780 (1992)established a fact-finding commission to draw up an internationally accepted record of atrocities and their perpetrators.

In a logical consequence SCR 808 (1992) created an international tribunal to prosecute those violating international humanitarian law in the former Yugoslavia. Finally, SCR 827 (1993) described certain violations of international humanitarian law in the former Yugoslavia and determined that "this situation" constitutes a threat to international peace and security which triggered the Council's mandatory authority under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

The contrast with the situation in former Yugoslavia is striking. In both instances the SCR's affirmed that international humanitarian law was applicable, but in the case of Israel, the crucial step of affirming the principle of individual penal responsibility has not been taken. Instead, when addressing the issue of responsibility, the exclusive focus has been on shortcomings in Israel's behaviour without this translating into the actions which might render accountable those individuals who have been responsible for such shortcomings.

In 1990, SCR 672 called upon Israel "to abide scrupulously by its legal obligations and responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention" and welcomed the decision of the Secretary-General to send a mission to the region, asking him to submit a report on his "findings and conclusions". In some respects the high point in this process came with SCR 681 (1990) which called on the High Contracting Parties to "ensure Israel's respect for the Convention".

This week's US-vetoed resolution would reiterate "the need for protection of all civilians as expressed in its resolutions 1265 (1999) and 1296 (2000)" and "the need for Israel, the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by its legal obligations and its responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949". Moreover, the resolution would have expressed "full support for the work of the Fact-Finding Committee established at Sharm El-Sheikh, and would have called "upon all parties to cooperate fully with it".

It is clear that the United States has prevented the United Nations from following through with its duties in maintaining international peace and security. The US veto was the first veto for the United States since March 1997, when Washington twice vetoed a resolution preventing Israel to continue its colonisation policy through building settlements in occupied East-Jerusalem, an illegal action according to international law. The vetoes supported Israel's construction of a new colony on top of the Abu Ghneim mountain and opposed Israeli payment of compensation for the 1996 Qana massacre. Basically, the US sent the Israeli government the clear message that it can do whatever it wishes, including destroying the world's hopes for Middle East peace.

It was the 73rd cast by the US representative in the 55-year history of the United Nations. Until this US veto, only nine vetoes had been cast by any of the Permanent Members of the Security Council in the past decade. On December 18 last year, the US threatened to veto another draft on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but this was not needed because supporters of the text could rally only eight of the nine votes required to adopt a resolution.

To date, the United States has used its veto 73 times. The vast majority of US vetoes were casted in support of Israel and apartheid-South Africa and defending its own actions in Central America. Clearly, the US regards itself as exempt from international norms and standards such as the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Fourth Geneva Conventions, and other documents describing basic human rights and humanitarian standards. As such, rendering the United Nations "utterly ineffective" has become routine procedure. Obviously, for a "rogue state" international law and human rightsdo not mean anything.

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