There have been increasing calls by UN member states and civil society for voluntary restraint on the use of the veto by the Permanent Members of the Security Council, known as the "P5," in mass atrocity situations.
The failure of the UN Security Council (UNSC) to protect civilians from mass atrocity crimes – genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity – has severely impaired its credibility in the eyes of the wider UN membership and the public.
Since October 2011 the veto has been exercised twelve times by two of the UNSC's permanent members – Russia (twelve) and China – (six, plus one abstention) on resolutions meant to address crimes against humanity and war crimes committed against the Syrian people. The Syrian conflict is now in its eighth year and has consumed over 460,000 lives. Those vetoes undermined the legitimacy of the UNSC, shielded perpetrators from accountability and cost lives.
Over the past few years there has been growing momentum around calls for the UNSC to voluntarily refrain from using veto in atrocity situations. Over 120 governments - in addition to two UN observer missions - have supported calls for veto restraint or a code of conduct. The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect has been working closely with civil society organizations and member states in issuing joint calls for restraint.
Since 2005 the UN Secretary-General, Deputy-Secretary-General, High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Advisers for Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect have all called for voluntary restraint of the veto in mass atrocity situations.
Two initiatives have been developed as a response to the irresponsible use of the veto in mass atrocity situations: the France/Mexico initiative on veto restraint and the ACT Code of Conduct.
Veto restraint in atrocity situations was first suggested by French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine in 2001 and later announced again by President François Hollande in his address to the UN General Assembly in 2013, and further articulated in more detail by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in an op-ed in the New York Times on 4 October 2013.
In 2013 the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) Group was launched, expanding upon the work of the failed "Small Five (S5) initiative," which aimed to improve the transparency of the UNSC by suggesting that states should explain why the veto has been employed in each situation.
Subsequently, the now 25-member ACT group proposed a "Code of Conduct regarding Security Council action against genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes" in July 2015. The Code of Conduct calls upon all members of the UNSC – elected and permanent – to not vote against any credible draft resolution intended to prevent or halt mass atrocities.
On 23 October 2015 the Code of Conduct was officially launched at an event organized by the Foreign Minister of Liechtenstein, H.E. Ms. Aurelia Frick, at United Nations Headquarters.
As of 1 June 2018, the Code of Conduct is signed by 115 member states and 2 observers.