Seventy-eighth Session,
51st & 52nd Meetings (AM & PM)

Unhindered Humanitarian Aid, Saving Civilian Lives Must Be Priority in Gaza, Speakers Stress as General Assembly Examines United States Use of Veto in Security Council

Speakers in the General Assembly today examined the recent use of veto by the United States against an amendment to Security Council resolution 2720 (2023) on Gaza that would have called for “an urgent suspension of hostilities to allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access” and for “urgent steps towards a sustainable cessation of hostilities”.

The meeting was held under the Assembly’s standing mandate to convene within 10 working days of a veto being cast in the Council.  On 22 December, the United States vetoed an amendment proposed by the Russian Federation.  Subsequently, the Council adopted resolution 2720 (2023) — tabled by the United Arab Emirates — by a vote of 13 in favour to none against, with 2 abstentions (United States, Russian Federation).  (See Press Release SC/15546.) 

At the start of today’ meeting, Assembly Vice President Cheikh Niang (Senegal) said the adoption of resolution 2720 (2023) was a welcome step.  He urged all parties to fully implement it and all other relevant texts, including those adopted in the context of the Assembly’s Tenth Emergency Special Session on the matter.  “Our immediate priority must be to protect civilians and save lives,” he stressed, encouraging all Member States to keep this shared goal at the forefront of the day-long debate, during which 50 delegates took the floor.  

Explaining its use of veto, the representative of the United States stressed that his delegation worked closely with many others in good faith to craft a strong, humanitarian-focused resolution to get more humanitarian aid into — and hostages out of — Gaza.  However, one Council member continued to advance amendments and ideas disconnected from the situation on the ground.  It is troubling that so many Member States have stopped talking about the plight of the more than 100 hostages still held by Hamas and other groups.

Further, it is striking that, while many countries urge an end to the conflict, there are few demands for Hamas to stop hiding behind civilians, lay down their arms and surrender, he said, emphasizing:  “This would have been over if Hamas’ leaders had done that.”

The Russian Federation’s delegate recalled that the United Arab Emirates, on behalf of the Arab States, had presented a robust draft resolution on increasing humanitarian assistance to Gaza, which also contained an important political element — a clear and unequivocal call for a cessation of hostilities in the territory.  But the United States, after several days of arm-twisting, managed to remove a call for a cessation of hostilities.

Calling the watered-down resolution a “license” for Israel to continue killing Palestinian civilians in Gaza, she stressed the need for the Council to clearly demand a full-fledged ceasefire.  Without it, implementing the Council’s decisions in Gaza is simply impossible, she added.

The Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine said that the Council is being prevented from calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, which is indispensable to achieve all humanitarian aims.  “This schizophrenia needs to end,” he asserted, recalling that 153 Member States voted for a ceasefire in the Assembly resolution of 12 December 2023 (document A/ES-10/L.27) at its resumed Tenth Emergency Special Session.  “This assault is without precedent in modern history in the scale and pace of killing of children, of UN personnel, of medical and rescue teams, of journalists,” he said, asking:  “How can you reconcile opposing these atrocities and vetoing a call to end the war…?”

Underscoring that famine, the spread of infectious diseases and death in new forms and shapes is not an unforeseen consequence of a war but an Israeli war method — a man-made, occupation-made humanitarian catastrophe — he demanded:  “Don’t call for peace and spread fire.  If you want peace, start with a ceasefire.”

Presenting a counterargument, Israel’s delegate said that 96 days have passed since Hamas butchered and exterminated 1,300 Israelis and took 240 people hostage.  However, the Assembly or any other United Nations body has yet to condemn such acts.  Among the hostages was a nine-month-old boy, Kfir, who marked his first birthday in captivity.  Instead of love from his family members, he is surrounded by terrorists.  Demanding a ceasefire is tantamount to keeping Hamas in power as it would allow the group to reorganize and continue terror.

Calling the United Nations morally bankrupt, he urged it to hold Hamas accountable for its horrific acts and ensure the release of Kfir and other hostages.  The UN is focusing only on the well-being of Gazans, who voted for Hamas, while ignoring Israeli victims.  By remaining silent, the world body has become an accomplice to terrorists.  Israel supports all humanitarian assistance, he said, rejecting a claim that his Government is obstructing aid.  Hamas is looting critical supplies before they reach those in need.  The war will end immediately if Hamas releases all hostages, he added.

The representative of Bahrain, speaking for the Arab Group, called on the international community to provide humanitarian aid “in large amounts and non-stop” to Palestinians in Gaza.  Three months have passed since the start of Israeli aggression in the territory. Yet, the Council is still unable to establish a ceasefire, which harms the UN’s credibility in terms of its ability to address current and future crises.

A just solution to the Palestinian cause is the only way to establish security and stability in the region, he said, reiterating the importance of urgently bolstering international efforts to end the Israeli occupation and ensure independence for the State of Palestine, within the 4 June 1967 border lines and with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The speaker for Iran said that the United States has once again indicated a lack of commitment to ending the violence in Gaza and safeguarding civilian lives.  “The veto granted Israel unchecked freedom for […] indiscriminate bombings on civilian infrastructure and the population of Gaza without any time constraints,” he said, adding that the obstruction by Washington, D.C., starkly contrasts with global appeals for an end to the bloodshed.

Austria’s delegate pointed out that the veto in question was cast against an oral amendment, which makes it different from previous instances in which the General Assembly has met to discuss use of this measure.  This time, the Council was not prevented from acting, as it was still able to adopt a resolution.  However, he stressed that every veto in the Council should be met with the same consequences.  He therefore welcomed today’s debate to increase transparency.

“Demands for a ceasefire fell on deaf ears,” said Türkiye’s representative, noting that the two resolutions adopted so far by the Council failed to call for an immediate ceasefire.  As the veto has become an arbitrary, detrimental tool — “where common good is sacrificed to individual interest” — the need for Council reform is both indisputable and undeferrable, she stressed.

In the same vein, the speaker for Egypt insisted that Council reform is the only means for the organ to shoulder its responsibilities and protect civilian lives.  Such reform, however, will not occur without Arab and African States being represented as permanent members, accorded the same privileges as those granted to current ones, including the veto right.  Detailing his country’s efforts to end the war and alleviate its humanitarian consequences since the beginning of the crisis, he underscored that Egypt “will not allow the Palestinian cause to be liquidated”.

South Africa instituted proceedings against Israel before the International Court of Justice concerning its violations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, said its representative, declaring:  “We cannot allow for senseless bombing to continue under the misleading and inaccurate guise of the right to self-defence.”  To alleviate the suffering of Gazans, an immediate ceasefire must be demanded, he emphasized.

Kenya’s speaker said that the veto stands as “one of the world’s greatest anti-democratic symbols”, endorsing the Common African Position that advocates for the abolition of the veto, as it contradicts the UN Charter’s fundamental principle of sovereign equality of States.  “The world is divided between the great mass of States and peoples on one side, and the powers and privileges of the victors of a war that is eight decades old,” he said, adding:  “It is time to use this moment not to wring our hands but to join them in a powerful drive for reform”.

Malaysia’s delegate said that the call for a ceasefire or “an urgent suspension of hostilities” would have made a significant difference if it was not vetoed.  The killings of Palestinians could have been stopped, more humanitarian aid could have reached those in desperate need and many lives could have been saved.

“The minimum that should be expected is a ceasefire,” said Mexico’s speaker, emphasizing that unhindered access for humanitarian assistance cannot be achieved without it.  She sounded the alarm over the repercussions of the conflict across the region, pointing to the increase in attacks by Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem; the constant bombings in the vicinity of the Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel; and the attacks by the Houthi militias in the Red Sea.  All States to join the French-Mexican initiative to voluntarily limit the use of veto in the case of mass atrocities.

The Republic of Korea’s representative stressed that implementing resolution 2720 (2023) is vastly more important than its mere adoption. It is time to seriously consider the day after the conflict.  The only way to stop the cycle of violence is to realize a two-State solution.  His country, as a new non-permanent Council member, will work tirelessly in cooperation with other members towards that aspiration.

In other business, the Assembly adopted draft resolution A/78/L.34 without a vote.  By the text, the Assembly decided to proclaim 16 September as the International Day of Science, Technology and Innovation for the South, to be observed annually.

For information media. Not an official record.