Issue 13: Should the role of the Security Council expand to encompass questions of economic, socialand cultural rights?

Many Member States have recently expressed a desire for a wider, more open and inclusive Security Council. On Monday, the Secretary-General made reference to a “dormant provision” in the UN Charter (article 65) that can allow greater interaction between the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council.

Analysis: Given the power of the Security Council, any discussion of widening or changing its role must be addressed with great seriousness and caution.

Article 65 of the UN Charter states: “The Economic and Social Council may furnish information to the Security Council and shall assist the Security Council upon its request.” The reactivation of Article 65 prompts this question: How will greater prominence to economic, social and cultural rights impact the work of the Security Council?

Within the UN system, increasing attention is being paid to economic, social and cultural rights. This is a new focus on the hitherto complementarity of rights between economic, social and cultural rights, and civil and political rights. Economic, social and cultural rights – including such issues as access to education and healthcare, and the eradication of poverty – are all worthy of UN attention. But careful thought must be given to the ways those rights are realized, especially if they become matters of Security Council concern.

Who bears the burden of fulfilling economic, social and cultural rights? At what point are these rights fulfilled? Will the task of compelling Member States to fulfill these important, yet often vaguely expressed, rights fall to the Security Council, whose Charter mandate is “the maintenance of international peace and security”?

Do economic, social and cultural rights represent a threat to international peace and security? Perhaps they do, in that their violation can be a catalyst to the infringement of civil and political rights, which may in turn threaten international peace. However, are we to widen the ambit of the definition of “international peace and security” to the point where it ceases to have a compelling, urgent meaning?

Perhaps some of these questions should be considered before the Security Council, arguably the most powerful body within the UN system, becomes more involved with the undeniably important concerns of the Economic and Social Council. For after all, except for the veto, there is no way to review a vote of the Security Council, including the legality of its actions.

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