The United Nations Security Council and the Enforcement of International Humanitarian Law
Israel Law Review, Vol. 43, pp. 330-359, 2010
30 Pages Posted: 23 Feb 2011 Last revised: 14 Mar 2015
Date Written: June 30, 2010
This Article discusses the competences and powers of the UN Security Council in securing compliance with international humanitarian law, in particular through the adoption of the measures provided in Chapter VII of the Charter. The competence of the Council in this field can be founded on several legal grounds: on a broad interpretation of the notion of “threat to the peace” (Article 39 of the Charter), on Article 94(2) with regard to the International Court of Justice’s judgments establishing violations of the jus in bello and also on the customary duty to ensure respect for international humanitarian law as reflected in Article 1 Common to the 1949 Geneva Conventions on the Protection of the Victims of War. In particular, such customary provision empowers the Security Council to react to any violation of international humanitarian law regardless of a nexus with concerns of international stability. Although the Council has adopted a variety of measures in relation to violations of the laws of war, the most incisive ones are those provided in Articles 41 and 42 of Chapter VII, which however are not without problems. The role the Security Council has played in the enforcement of international humanitarian law has been criticized because of its selective and opportunistic approach, which is due to the political nature of the organ. Also, in several instances the Council, far from securing compliance with the jus in bello, has instead interfered with its application.
However selective and imperfect the Council’s approach might be, though, its power to adopt decisions binding on UN members and its competence to take or authorize coercive measures involving the use of force make it potentially a formidable instrument against serious violations of international humanitarian law, partly remedying the lack of enforcing mechanisms in the treaties on the laws of war.
Keywords: Security Council, United Nations, International Humanitarian Law
JEL Classification: K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation