UN secretary-general invokes Article 99 on Gaza

Antonio Guterres warned of a deepening ‘catastrophe’ in Gaza as he called on the Security Council to act.

The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has invoked Article 99 of the UN Charter, urging the UN Security Council to act on the war in Gaza.

The rare move on Wednesday comes as the 15-member Security Council is yet to adopt a resolution calling for a ceasefire between Israel, Hamas and their allies.

Article 99 allows the secretary-general to “bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security”.

In his letter to the council’s president, Guterres invoked this responsibility, saying he believed the situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, “may aggravate existing threats to the maintenance of international peace and security”.

Guterres – who has been calling for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” since October 18 – also described “appalling human suffering, physical destruction and collective trauma across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories”.

Article 99 is a special power – and the only independent political tool given to the secretary-general in the UN Charter – that allows him to call a meeting of the Security Council on his own initiative to issue warnings about new threats to international peace and security, and matters that are not yet on the council’s agenda.

‘We cannot wait’

In response to Guterres’s letter, Security Council member the United Arab Emirates posted on X to say it had submitted a new draft resolution to the council, and “called for a humanitarian ceasefire resolution to be adopted urgently”.

It warned that the situation in Gaza is catastrophic and close to irreversible, adding: “We cannot wait.”

The UAE calls for a humanitarian ceasefire resolution to be adopted urgently and has just submitted a draft to the UNSC.

The situation in the Gaza Strip is catastrophic and close to irreversible. We cannot wait. The Council needs to act decisively to demand a humanitarian…

— UAE Mission to the UN (@UAEMissionToUN) December 6, 2023

If the council does choose to act on Guterres’s advice and adopt a ceasefire resolution, it does have additional powers at its disposal to ensure the resolution is implemented, including the power to impose sanctions or authorise the deployment of an international force.

But the council’s five permanent members – China, Russia, the US, the UK and France – hold veto power.

The US used that veto on October 18 against a resolution that would have condemned Hamas’s attack on Israel while calling for a pause in the fighting to allow humanitarian assistance into Gaza.

Twelve other council members voted in favour, while Russia and the UK abstained.

Catastrophe looms

Guterres said the Security Council’s continued lack of action and the sharp deterioration of the situation in Gaza had compelled him to invoke Article 99 for the first time since he took on the top job at the UN in 2017.

He warned public order in Gaza could soon break down amid the complete collapse of the humanitarian system.

“The situation is fast deteriorating into a catastrophe with potentially irreversible implications for Palestinians as a whole and for peace and security in the region,” he wrote.

“Such an outcome must be avoided at all costs.”

I’ve just invoked Art.99 of the UN Charter – for the 1st time in my tenure as Secretary-General.

Facing a severe risk of collapse of the humanitarian system in Gaza, I urge the Council to help avert a humanitarian catastrophe & appeal for a humanitarian ceasefire to be declared.

— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) December 6, 2023

But Guterres’s invocation of Article 99 was not welcomed by Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan.

In a post on X, Erdan described the letter as “more proof” of Guterres’s “moral distortion and his bias against Israel”.

“The secretary-general’s call for a ceasefire is actually a call to keep Hamas’s reign of terror in Gaza,” said Erdan, who also repeated his call for Guterres to resign.

The UN Charter only provides limited powers to the UN secretary-general, who serves as the UN’s Chief Administrative Officer and is elected by member states.

“The fact that this tool has not been used since 1989 does resonate diplomatically and symbolically here in New York,” Daniel Forti, a senior analyst on UN advocacy and research at the International Crisis Group, told Al Jazeera.

But Forti added that it will not “fundamentally change the political calculation of the Security Council’s most powerful members”.

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