United Nations, Dec 7 , In a bid to push the paralysed Security Council to act on Gaza, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday invoked a rarely used provision of the Charter to call its attention to the looming “human catastrophe” there and to request a humanitarian ceasefire.
In a letter to Council President Javier Dominguez, Guterres wrote, “I am writing under Article 99 of the United Nations Charter to bring to the attention of the Security Council a matter which, in my opinion, may aggravate existing threats to the maintenance of international peace and security”.
“I urge the members of the Security Council to press to avert a humanitarian catastrophe”, he wrote, “I reiterate my appeal for a humanitarian ceasefire to be declared.”
He warned, “Amid constant bombardment by the Israel Defence Forces, and without shelter or the essentials to survive, I expect public order to completely break down soon due to the desperate conditions, rendering even limited humanitarian assistance impossible”.
Guterres’s Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric described the invocation of Article 99 as a “very powerful move” by Guterres.
Calling it a “constitutional move” by Guterres, Dujarric said it was the exercise of the “only the real power” given to the Secretary-General by the Charter.
Article 99 has been invoked directly only three times, the last 34 years ago in 1989 by Javier Perez de Cuellar regarding the fighting in Lebanon, although Secretaries-General have alerted the Council to crises, including the Bangladesh War, at least ten times without referring to the article.
Article 99 states, “The Secretary-General may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”
The Secretary-General does not have any powers to directly act on crises or take action against countries and only the Council has the power under the Charter.
Dujarric expected the Council, which is headed by Ecuador this month, to meet regarding the letter and for Guterres to speak to it.
After four resolutions on Gaza were vetoed at the Council, it finally managed to pass one last month calling for a “humanitarian pause” in the fighting rather than a ceasefire.
In his letter, Guterres reiterated his call for a ceasefire, which would put an open-ended stop to the fighting, rather than a pause of a limited duration.
“With a humanitarian ceasefire, the means of survival [for the people of Gaza] can be restored and humanitarian assistance can be delivered in a safe and timely manner across the Gaza Strip”, he wrote in his letter, which was circulated to all the 15 members of the Council.
The eight weeks of fighting “have created appalling human suffering, physical destruction and collective trauma across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory”, he said.
He condemned the 7/10 Hamas terrorist attack on Israel during which more than 1,200 people were killed, about 250 taken hostage and several women sexually attacked.
He also said that in the retaliatory attacks about 15,000 people, 40 per cent of them children, were killed and 80 per cent of the population of 2.2 million was “forcibly displaced”.
(Arul Louis can be contacted at [email protected] and followed at @arulouis)