This is kind of related to this question: Can a UN member be penalized for threatening the destruction of another member? In one of the answers, it is written that "the UN can do whatever won't get a veto in the security council".

Literally, "whatever" means a resolution could include something quite contrary to the principles of the UN, like "let us kill all people with the flu, then all bold people, and then cut off the left hand thumbs of all the newborns for the next seventeen weeks".

Is there in the UN charter or a similar document a safeguard against emitting such resolutions ? Rules that apply directly to the content of the resolutions, whatever the votes in favor of it are ?

I was thinking about mass murder or ethnic cleansing, but there may be others. I looked a little in the charter, but didn't find anything like that.

  • The simple safeguard of ignoring a UN resolution is very often applied.
    – ugoren
    Sep 22, 2017 at 17:44

2 Answers 2


The UN is not a supranational governance body that can impose its will and resolutions on its various members (or non-members).

Rather, it's better described as a chat club where countries can discuss transnational topics and then agree (or disagree) to behave in a certain way, alongside a few transnational activities like refugee crisis management (UNHCR) or global health (WHO). There's no enforcement mechanism to coerce members to behave in any way, if you will, apart from economic sanctions that may or may not be honored and very occasional peace keeping missions.

Put another way, "the UN can do whatever won't get a veto in the security council" is more or less correct except for the do bit: it can only say.

With this in mind the UN actually has a text related to your question: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948.

The text affirms a number of individual rights. In its preamble, governments commit to promoting and securing these rights. But it's not a treaty and it technically contains no language that makes it legally binding.

In other words: There is a text to the effect of not passing a resolution promoting mass murder or ethnic cleansing, but it's not legally binding in itself. And in the unlikely event that such a resolution were passed, it wouldn't be technically binding on its members anyway.

  • 1
    I'm not sure anything you say can be conclusively proving that UN can't adopt a resolution about offing right hands of all newborns. Its resolution MAY be in violation of UDHR but what's stopping it from being adopted as far as internal official UN rules and procedures?
    – user4012
    Sep 21, 2017 at 16:47
  • There is a fundamental reason why the Declaration of Human Rights is not a treaty. It is started to be merely a declaration of indisputable facts. By framing these rights are being inherent to all humans, instead of following from treaty, it becomes clear that every State must respect them. A State cannot decline to ratify this Declaration. It also means these rights have no start date. Remember, this is the timeframe of the Nuremberg Trials. Nazi Germany was held to have violated these rights. They might not have been declared explicitly, but the rights themselves have never not existed.
    – MSalters
    Sep 25, 2017 at 16:06

There are internal safeguards, particularly in that a resolution must be voted on by the security council and all five permanent members must either vote in favour or abstain. This is intended to prevent "bad" resolutions or "unfair" resolutions being passed. Furthermore there is a period of discussion, both formal and informal before a resolution is voted on. This discussion acts as an internal safeguard, as people from different countries can object and point out problems.

What there isn't is any external safeguard. There is no body like the supreme court that can judge if a resolution is compatible with the constitution of the UN.

This is similar to some parliaments (such as the UK parliament) have a principle of Parliamentary sovereignty: The text of an act of Parliament cannot be changed or rejected by any body, even the supreme court. The UK parliament could pass a act for cutting off the thumbs of newborns. But it doesn't.

  • UK is part of treaties that may legally prohibit that.
    – user4012
    Sep 21, 2017 at 17:29
  • 1
    If so, the passing of an act of parliament would constitute a withdrawal from said treaty. If treaties are broken, there may be sanctions or even war. But no country can compel another. International Law isn't like national law.
    – James K
    Sep 21, 2017 at 18:44
  • @JamesK: Actually, the EU has an explicit withdrawal procedure (the famous Article 50). The UK could not withdraw by passing an act in violation of the ECHR. And the EU can still (as Brexit is not effective) reject British law in violation of the ECHR; this is enforced both by the ECHR and the ECJ. Note that Brexit only removes the ECJ; the UK has not (yet) withdrawn from the ECHR.
    – MSalters
    Sep 25, 2017 at 16:12

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