Ceasefire demands go ignored, but Malta’s UN ambassador says there’s power in the Security Council

Malta’s Permanent Representative at the UN Vanessa Frazier sits down with Nicole Meilak to discuss the ‘language’ of peace.

Permanent Representative to the UN Vanessa Frazier
Permanent Representative to the UN Vanessa Frazier

Malta’s second term as president of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) had a turbulent start.

On the same day it decided on its programme of work for the month, an Israeli strike destroyed Iran’s consulate in Syria and killed 12. This would go on to prompt an Iran attack on Israel a couple of weeks later.

It also coincided with a push for Palestine’s full membership in the United Nations, and a historic vote taken at the Security Council.

Despite the busy start to the term, Malta’s UN ambassador Vanessa Frazier sat down with a delegation of Maltese journalists between meetings and negotiations to talk about Malta’s Israel-Gaza ceasefire resolution, whether the UNSC has teeth, and how the Maltese language helped in drafting a second ceasefire resolution at the Security Council.


Ceasefire resolution ignored, but UNSC still has teeth

Last November, Malta drafted a Security Council resolution calling for humanitarian pauses in Gaza and the safe passage of humanitarian aid. Fast forward to March this year, and a second resolution was passed demanding a Ramadan ceasefire that would lead to a “lasting sustainable ceasefire”.

Yet, the demands for a ceasefire have been largely ignored on the ground in Gaza.

Frazier admitted that having countries ignoring Security Council resolutions does undermine the power of the UN’s highest decision-making body.

“You’re clearly not as strong,” she remarked. “Having a UNSC resolution adopted against a country, or imposing certain obligations on countries, is supposed to be something serious. But if you can just say ‘I’m going to ignore it, and what are you going to do about it?’, then it’s not serious any longer.”

She said this is a big problem that a lot of elected members have when it comes to the credibility of the council and the way people look at the UN. Part of this perception comes from the veto mechanism that can be employed by any of the five permanent council members.

“From the outside looking in, there’s this perception that you cannot get anything done because there’s a veto and it’s the first thing you face. In reality, the veto is the last thing you face. The veto allows for honest negotiations. The veto isn’t the first tool used by the permanent five.”

She said implementation is always an issue when it comes to UN action, but it doesn’t mean that the Security Council is toothless. “There was action taken against South Africa when it wasn’t adhering to council resolutions, and its voting rights in the general assembly were removed,” she pointed out.

“There are tools. The next step now is if there are parties that have not implemented resolutions, then one can introduce new products to force them. Sanctions, removing voting rights, suspending them from the General Assembly. It’s not going to happen in the Security Council though, because there is a veto.”

She also reminded that Security Council resolutions are legally binding, even if they are not implemented on the ground. “Right now, there are two ICJ actions ongoing with Israel and Palestine, one started before the war and is about whether the occupation of Palestine is legal or not, and since the October war started there is the genocide case against Israel.

"Non-implementation of Security Council decisions, and continued violations of, does not help their case in the court. So, it’s important to pass a resolution even if it might not be implemented.”


Malta’s ceasefire resolution, and the emotional toll of diplomacy

Frazier recalled how she managed to negotiate the first resolution on the Israel-Gaza conflict that called for extended humanitarian pauses.

“It was very difficult because everyone wanted a ceasefire, and everyone wanted a condemnation of Hamas. And I didn’t have that in my resolution. I said we’re going to go for the lowest possible common denominator we can get, which is a pause and hostage release.”

“I told them: if you want those other things, I’m not going to table it. Because this is not that resolution. This resolution is about the fact that there are people captured in tunnels, at least the women and children should be released.”

She said there was a clear goal to this resolution, namely that women and children are released, and humanitarian aid goes into Gaza. “There were children under the rubble!”

She recalled being in ‘sofa talks’ with other permanent representatives to the UN, and everyone admitting that they did not feel human anymore. “How much longer were we going to see babies being rescued from the rubble?”

No one was happy with the resolution, she said. “It passed because everyone was unhappy with it. But at the same time, we needed to be human. During negotiations I would wake up at night every day, suffocating and claustrophobic thinking of the children in tunnels and under the rubble.”


How the Maltese language helped draft the ceasefire resolution

At the UN Security Council, the approval of a resolution could come down to a single word. This was very much the case on a second resolution voted on in March that called for a lasting ceasefire.

“We had a resolution that was agreed on by everyone,” she said. “But it was all about one word: how to describe the ceasefire. Was it permanent? Durable? Or, as we ended up with, lasting?”

She said they first agreed on the word ‘permanent’, but two hours later one member flagged an issue with the wording, instead proposing durable. “For us that would have been fine because it means withstanding the test of time. Everyone was using ‘permanent’ so you want it, but in fact durable is the same word.”

However, a sudden change in wording would have caused issues with some other members, and so a third word was needed.

“And we found a third word – thanks to the Maltese language! In Maltese we say ‘paċi dejjiema’, we don’t say ‘permanenti’. I figured ‘dejjiema’ would have an Arabic root,” she said. “For us paċi dejjiema is lasting peace, permanent peace, durable peace. It’s all encompassing. And in Arabic it’s exactly the same thing!”