(Editors’ Note: This is the latest in Just Security’s weekly series keeping readers up to date on developments at the United Nations at the intersection of national security, human rights, and the rule of law.)

Secretary-General Guterres Invokes U.N. Charter Article 99

On Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres sent a letter to current U.N. Security Council President José Javier De la Gasca Lopez Domínguez of Ecuador, “urg[ing] the members of the Security Council to press to avert a humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza. His letter emphasized “a severe risk of collapse of the humanitarian system” in Gaza and reiterated his call for a humanitarian ceasefire.

In doing so, Guterres invoked Article 99 of the U.N. Charter, which permits 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.” It is the first time in Guterres’ tenure that he has invoked Article 99. Past secretaries-general have explicitly invoked Article 99 only six times since the U.N. was established in 1945, most recently in 1989 in reference to the situation in Lebanon. 

Note: Readers may be interested in Daniel Forti’s analysis of the Article 99 letter here

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Warns of Heightened Risk of Atrocity Crimes in Gaza

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk warned on Wednesday of “a heightened risk of atrocity crimes” in Gaza in a press conference ahead of Human Rights Day. Türk described what he called the “catastrophic” situation in Gaza as “entirely foreseeable and preventable” and called upon the international community to press for a ceasefire.

Security Council Resolution Terminates U.N. mission in Sudan

Last Friday, the U.N. Security Council voted to end the U.N. political mission in Sudan (UNITAMS). The vote follows a request by Sudan’s acting foreign minister last month. UNITAMS, which was established by a Security Council resolution in 2020, was intended to support Sudan’s transition to democratic rule. While the resolution to wind down UNITAMS was drafted by the U.K., British representatives to the U.N. emphasized that they “would not have chosen to close UNITAMS at this moment,” but were responding to “the unequivocal demand of the Sudanese authorities for the immediate terminations.” 

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the United States had determined that “members of the SAF and the RSF have committed war crimes in Sudan,” and “that members of the RSF and allied militias have committed crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.”

Security Council Briefing on Impact of War in Ukraine

On Wednesday, Miroslav Jenča, Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, and Ramesh Rajasingham, Director of Coordination for the U.N. Humanitarian Affairs Office, briefed the Security Council on the lasting toll of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Jenča called for attacks on civilians and civilian architecture to stop immediately, calling such attacks “prohibited under international humanitarian law.” Since February 2022, U.N. entities have “verified 10,065 civilians killed and a further 18,679 injured.” Briefers also noted “continuing risk to Ukraine’s nuclear power plants” and the threat the winter poses to the most vulnerable people in Ukraine.

The brief comes as negotiations for additional aid for Ukraine have stalled in the Senate, with President Joe Biden urging Congress to break the stalemate in a speech on Wednesday.

IMAGE: The United Nations Headquarters, in New York city, on Oct. 18, 2023. (Photo by DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images)