In situations where mass atrocities are being committed — or about to be committed — the five veto-wielding states should commit to not use their veto. In doing so, they will unshackle the Security Council, enabling it to protect the lives of civilians in advance, during or in the wake of grave crimes. Such a commitment would also send a clear signal to perpetrators of abuse that the world will not sit idly by while mass atrocities — war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide — take place.
Some may argue that it is wildly unrealistic to expect the five permanent members to place the suffering of civilians in distant lands above their geopolitical interests. But this thinking is both morally and logically flawed. The nature of global conflict is changing. The definition of any country’s national interest should no longer be viewed through a blinkered nationalistic lens.
Conflicts no longer respect national borders. Armed groups and their ideologies do not confine themselves to their country of origin. Impunity emboldens human rights abusers and weapons empower them. Meanwhile the human tide of refugees creeps ever higher. In 2014, more than 3,000 people drowned in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe from Africa and the Middle East.