The measure convening the General Assembly session was adopted by a vote of 11 in favor, with Russia voting against, and China, India and the United Arab Emirates abstaining.
Today’s request for the Assembly to urgently convene a meeting comes after Russia vetoed on Friday a US-led draft Security Council resolution that would have ‘deplored in the strongest terms the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine’.
Since the text acted on today was procedural, none of the five permanent Council members – China France, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States – could use their vetoes. The measure needed just nine votes in favor to pass.
Uniting for Peace
Only 10 such emergency special sessions of the General Assembly have been convened since 1950, following the adoption of resolution 377A(V), widely known as ‘Uniting for Peace.’
That text gives the Assembly the power to take up matters of international peace and security when the Security Council is unable to act because of the lack of unanimity among its five veto-wielding permanent members.
Following statements by countries in the emergency special session, the General Assembly is expected to vote on a resolution similar to the one taken up Friday by the Security Council. While Assembly resolutions are non-binding, they are considered to carry political weight as they express the will of the wider UN membership.
The Security Council’s latest steps to end the Ukraine crisis cap a week of activity at the United Nations seeking a diplomatic offramp to Russian military action in the country, including near daily press stakeouts by the Secretary-General, four emergency Council sessions, and one meeting of General Assembly, which saw speaker after speaker call for de-escalation.
On Saturday, amid reports of casualties and people fleeing their homes to seek safety as Russian military operations in the country intensified, the Secretary-General announced that the UN will launch an appeal to fund its humanitarian operations in Ukraine.
A readout issued by a UN spokesperson said that UN chief António Guterres had spoken on the phone with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and conveyed “the… determination of the United Nations to enhance humanitarian assistance to the people of Ukraine.”
The Secretary-General’s phone call and the announcement of a humanitarian appeal followed his decision this past Thursday to release $20 million from the UN emergency relief fund, known as CERF, to meet urgent needs in Ukraine.
In addition, the Secretary-General has announced the appointment of Amin Awad as UN Crisis Coordinator for Ukraine to lead the coordination of all UN efforts, including its humanitarian response, on both sides of the contact line.
Accountability for a ‘war of choice’
Speaking after the vote, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, of the United States, one of the countries that had requested the meeting, said the Security Council had today taken an important step towards holding Russia accountable for its aggression against Ukraine.
“By calling for an emergency special session of the General Assembly… [we] have recognized that this is no ordinary moment and that we need to take extraordinary steps to confront this threat to our international system,” she said, stressing that such a meeting of the wider UN membership was important to make their voices heard on “Russia’s war of choice.”
While noting that all UN Member States would have the ability to participate in the special emergency session, Ms. Thomas-Greenfield said that she understood that this would take courage for some.
But for inspiration and strength, she called on the wider UN membership to look no further than the Ukrainian people, “who are standing bravely…to defend democracy, while continuing to express willingness to participate in negotiations. So let us do everything we can to help the people of Ukraine as they stand up for themselves, their sovereign country and their children.”
Ambassador Ferit Hoxha of Albania, which had also called for today’s meeting, said that while the vote had been purely procedural, the text itself was one of “historical proportions. One which would open the big doors of the General Assembly, the place where all the world meets” and could speak out against an unprovoked war and in favour of the UN Charter, “including Russian citizens who need to listen to the world and hear what it is saying.”
“All Member States, including small ones like mine, must remember that the UN Charter is our best friend, our best army and best defense,” he said. Russia could at any moment come back to its senses and stop the war and pull back its troops and “go back to talks – real talks for peace, not for surrender and capitulation. But this needs lucidity, courage and wisdom, not threats for apocalypse.”
“As we said last Friday, this is not a time to stay idle or look away. It is time to stand up. Ukraine and Ukrainians are resisting,” he concluded.
French Ambassador Nicolas de Rivière, said that Russia had stood alone Friday in blocking a resolution that would have called for an end to its aggression against Ukraine. “This special session is a necessary new step intended to defend the UN Charter and international law and put an end to the aggression against Ukraine,” he said.
He noted that President Macron had called for another meeting the Security Council on Monday at which France along with Mexico would submit a resolution to demand the end of hostilities, protection of civilians, a safe and unhindered humanitarian access to meet the urgent needs of the population. The international community had a duty to stand up for unity and the primacy of international law, he said.
Council’s failure to face the truth
Vadim Nebenzya, Ambassador of the Russian Federation, said that he had voted against the submitted draft because its authors would note that the Security Council had been unable to carry out its primary duty to maintain international peace and security.
“Yet, at the same time, we did not see even a hint of an attempt to find a constructive solution in the Council. After all, two days ago we blocked one text for the very reason that it was one-sided and unbalanced. We have not seen any new initiatives,” he stressed.
He also denounced attempts by the draft’s sponsors to use their position on the Security Council to push through decisions against other members. “That is why the Council provides for the right to block decisions for permanent members. This is not a privilege, but a tool to ensure the balance of interests so necessary for the whole world, and through it, global stability.”
“Now there is a need to focus on resolving the roots of the crisis with which we are grappling,” he continued, stressing that it was not the launch of the ‘special military operation’, but the fact that the Council had for eight years turned a blind eye to the actions of Ukrainian nationalists in the Donbas.
He said that an “information war” was now being unleased against Russia and that social networks were rife with lies about what was happening in Ukraine. “I urge our colleagues not to contribute to the spread of such misinformation, although I am afraid these calls will not be heard again.”
Air raids, aggression and ‘absurd claims’
Ukraine’s Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya expressed gratitude to those that had supported the request to call for an emergency special session of the Assembly. For those who had not supported the request, including Russia, he said they should know that the most frequently heard warning in Ukraine today was ‘Attention. Air raids. Please proceed to shelters.’
He also asked those that had not supported the text to please look at videos and pictures of the damage circulating in the media. The truth of what was happening on the ground due to Russia’s aggression could be found there.
He went on to say that Ukraine had issued an order to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to undertake provisional measures against Russia and was seeking an emergency hearing. The Court had jurisdiction to hear the case, owing to international obligations under the Convention on the Prevention of Genocide.
“The Genocide Convention is one of the most important international treaties, drafted in response to the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust. Russia, however, has twisted the concept of genocide, and perverted the solemn treaty obligation to prevent and punish genocide,” the Ambassador explained.
He went on to note that Russia had made an “absurd and unfounded claim” of alleged genocide as a justification and pretext for its own aggression against Ukraine and violation of the sovereignty and human rights of the Ukrainian People. “Ukraine’s case before the ICJ will establish that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is based on a lie and a gross violation of international law and must be stopped.,” he declared.