UN General Secretary Calls for Gaza Cease-Fire

Article 99 meets Catch-22.

AP (“The UN secretary-general invoked ‘Article 99′ to push for a Gaza cease-fire. What exactly is it?“):

It’s called “Article 99.” And it hasn’t been used for decades. Until this week.

With an intensifying Israeli offensive and escalating civilian casualties, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres invoked a rarely exercised power this week to warn the Security Council of an impending “humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza. He urged members to demand an immediate humanitarian cease-fire.

Guterres invoked Article 99 of the U.N. Charter — last used over half a century ago — which says the secretary-general may inform the council of matters he believes threaten international peace and security.

Here, Edith M. Lederer, longtime chief U.N. correspondent for The Associated Press, breaks down what this could mean.

For the time-pressed, the short answer is: Nothing. Not a damn thing.

The longer version:


It’s a provision of the United Nations Charter, the U.N. constitution. It states that the secretary-general — the U.N.’s top diplomat — may bring to the attention of the Security Council “any matter which, in his opinion, may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”

This gives an important additional power to the secretary-general, since the real power at the U.N. is held by its 193 member nations and especially the 15 countries that serve on the Security Council.

Article 99 is extremely rarely used. The last time it was invoked was during fighting in 1971 that led to the creation of Bangladesh and its separation from Pakistan.

Guterres invoked Article 99 because he sees the situation in Gaza at risk of a “complete collapse” of the territory’s humanitarian system and civil order. It was something he felt needed to be done.

Gaza is a humanitarian nightmare, to be sure. But the problem is that a cease-fire benefits the people who started the war with a brutal terrorism campaign against Israeli civilians, leaving them open to regroup to do it all over. Israel is not inclined to do that.

More importantly, the Security Council was designed to have, well, no power at all unless there’s unanimity among the five postwar victors.


Arab and Islamic nations followed up on Guterres’s letter immediately.

The United Arab Emirates, the Arab representative on the Security Council, circulated a short resolution to Security Council members late Wednesday calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. They plan to put that resolution to a vote at a Security Council meeting on Friday morning.

The United States, which is Israel’s closest ally and has veto power on resolutions, has not supported a cease-fire. On Tuesday, U.S. Deputy Ambassador Robert Wood said that the role of the Security Council in the Israel-Gaza war is not to get in the way of important diplomacy that’s taking place. And he said the Security Council resolution at this time “would not be useful.”

This could signal a likely veto, but the U.S. has not said either way.

I would bet a whole lot of money that Linda Thomas-Greenfield, President Biden’s UN Ambassador, will veto the resolution or otherwise derail it. Biden has made it quite clear that he backs Israel fully, even if he has implored them to take more safeguards.


Because Guterres believes that the humanitarian system and the humanitarian operations in Gaza are collapsing.

He also warns in his letter that in the current situation, “amid constant bombardment by the Israeli Defense Forces and without shelter or essentials to survive, I expect public order to completely break down soon due to the desperate conditions, rendering even limited humanitarian assistance impossible.”

Guterres said the situation could get even worse, pointing to possible epidemics and the mass displacement of Palestinians into neighboring countries. He sees a looming disaster.

Previous secretaries-general have brought threats that they saw to international peace and security to the Security Council without mentioning Article 99. This includes Congo in 1960, the U.S. hostage crisis in Iran that began in November 1979, the Iran-Iraq war in 1980 and more recently Myanmar in 2017.

We don’t know why they didn’t invoke Article 99, and several of the previous secretaries-general are now dead. Guterres has been very outspoken on both the Hamas attacks on Israel and the very high death toll of Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

One imagines it’s simply a stylistic choice. Given that the Secretary General can bring whatever he wants to the Security Council for consideration, the value of declaring “I invoke Article 99!” when doing so is not obvious.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. JKB says:

    If Biden has the US veto the measure that is not going to make the White House interns happy.

    But the UN Secretary General should just have his UN employees who have held Israeli captives in their homes, have funneled humanitarian support to Hamas control over the years and have close ties to Hamas to tell the Hamas commanders what’s for.

    Sure, they could call on Israel, but when the UN has such a close working relationship with those in Gaza holding captives and those who raped, murdered women and men and butchered babies does the UN not have any influence after all the aide and comfort they’ve given?

  2. steve says:

    If memory serves, in the majority of the votes concerning Israel the large majority of nations vote against Israel on nearly every issue. It’s often just the US and a couple of other nations supporting Israel. Not totally surprising in that context that that the UN Sec-Gen would make this an issue, especially if he has some obligation to represent all nations.


  3. just nutha says:

    @JKB: Wow! Everything you write is more bizarre, unfounded/undocumented, senseless, and needlessly inflammatory than the last thing you wrote. Amazing. SMH

  4. Andy says:

    Hasn’t been used since 1971 and is getting used now? Speaks volumes.

  5. just nutha says:

    @Andy: Not sure that it does. But am interested in why you think so if you care to elaborate at some point.

  6. Gustopher says:

    Gaza is a humanitarian nightmare, to be sure. But the problem is that a cease-fire benefits the people who started the war with a brutal terrorism campaign against Israeli civilians, leaving them open to regroup to do it all over. Israel is not inclined to do that.

    1.8M displaced, 20K known dead. Vast swaths of Gaza leveled so many of the displaced will be homeless if they are ever allowed back to where their homes used to be.

    How much of Hamas has Israel managed to eradicate? They haven’t even gotten to the point of weekly announcements that they have killed the number 2 guy.

    Further, what is the likelihood that even if Israeli forces kill Harold Hamas (or whatever the leader of Hamas is) that there won’t be some other organization forming and regrouping? Israel isn’t exactly winning hearts and minds on the ground in Gaza.

  7. Andy says:

    @just nutha:

    There have been a lot of very bad events that have happened since 1971. There’s also currently a murderous civil war going on in Sudan, as well as the ongoing civil war in Syria. What is so special about this war in Gaza?

  8. just nutha says:

    @Andy: Thanks. I see the direction your comment is going more clearly now.

  9. JohnSF says:

    @just nutha:
    It makes little sense, because the purpose of Article 99 was supposed to be for the Sec-Gen to warn of imminent world war .

    What it’s being used in this instance is to protest about one of the “great causes” of the “Global Resistance”.

    Gutteres is claiming an urgent danger to international security due to the Israeli actions in Gaza.
    This seems to be a bit of an exaggeration, and done so for reasons of polemic, that may please an interested audience, but may not be objectively accurate.

  10. JohnSF says:

    “Hearts and minds” are no more the objective of the IDF in Gaza than they were of the Allies in Germany in 1944/5.
    Have you any idea how Allied forces dealt with “resistance” in Germany?