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United Nations Security Council

About the United Nations Security Council

The United Nations Security Council has the primary responsibility, under the United Nations Charter, for the maintenance of international peace and security. Recommending a peaceful resolution is the first action usually taken by the Council when a complaint concerning a threat to peace is brought before it. When a dispute leads to fighting, the Council’s first concern is to bring it to an end as soon as possible. It may do so by issuing cease-fire directives, sending United Nations peace-keeping forces, deciding on enforcement measures, economic sanctions (such as trade embargoes), collective military action against a UN member state or recommending the suspension of membership or expulsion from the General Assembly of a UN member state.


To exercise its function of maintaining international peace and security in accordance with the principles and purposes of the United Nations, the Council has to determine the existence of a threat to peace. Although the protection of human rights is not expressly stated as a mandate of the Security Council in the UN Charter, the Council has interpreted situations of gross human rights violations as a threat to international peace and security and taken measures. The Council’s power to protect human rights has a basis in the Responsibility to Protect doctrine as well. This doctrine, which first surfaced in the General Assembly’s Outcome Document of the 2005 World Summit, has subsequently been adopted and referred to in General Assembly resolution A/RES/63/308 and Security Council resolution 1674 (2006) on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict.  It is a commitment of states to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. If a state fails to protect its populations or is, in fact, the perpetrator of crimes, the international community must be prepared to take measures, including the collective use of force through the UN Security Council.

The express mandate of protecting human rights within the UN system is bestowed upon the Human Rights Council. The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the UN system made up of 47 States responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe.  The Human Rights Council, which replaced the Commission on Human Rights, was created by the UN General Assembly on 15 March 2006 with the main purpose of addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them.

The Security Council is made up of 15 Member States. There are five permanent members on the Council, namely China, France, Russia Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States. The other ten are non-permanent members and are elected by the General Assembly for two-terms.  Each member has one vote on procedural matters. Decisions on substantive matters require nine votes, including the concurring votes of all five permanent members. The Presidency of the Council rotates monthly, according to the English alphabetical listing of its member States.

South Africa began its two-term on 1 January 2011. It previously served on the Council in 2007 and 2008. Other African countries on the Council are Nigeria and Gabon.

United Nations Security Council Resolutions of 2011

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