UN General Assembly votes by large majority for immediate humanitarian ceasefire during emergency session

UN Photo/Loey Felipe | UN General Assembly adopts a resolution on “Protection of civilians and upholding legal and humanitarian obligations” during the 45th plenary meeting of the resumed 10th Emergency Special Session.

United Nations, 12 December 2023

The UN General Assembly met on Tuesday afternoon in Emergency Special Session on the decades long Israel-Palestine conflict and as the ongoing crisis in Gaza shows no signs of abating.

Member States adopted a resolution, demanding an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire”, the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages and well as “ensuring humanitarian access”.

  • It passed with a large majority of 153 in favour and 10 against, with 23 abstentions
  • The resolution also reiterated the General Assembly’s demand that all parties comply with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law, “notably with regard to the protection of civilians”
  • Prior to the resolution, two amendments making specific reference to extremist group Hamas were voted down by members
  • The General Assembly will resume the emergency session on Friday afternoon in New York starting at 3pm
  • At the start of the session, Assembly President Dennis Francis underscored the urgency of ending the suffering of innocent civilians in Gaza. “We have one singular priority – only one – to save lives,” he stressed
  • Check out this explainer on what an emergency special session of the Assembly is and how it works

6:16 PM

The acting President of the General Assembly adjourned the meeting. The session will reconvene at 3 PM (New York time) on Friday, 15 December, with the Assembly resuming its debate.

4:30 PM

Delegations are now speaking in explanation of their votes, after the vote.

4:26 PM

The vote on the main resolution is as follows:

For: 153

Against: 10

Abstaining: 23

The resolution has passed by a large majority, securing the needed two-thirds of members. Widespread applause rings out around the General Assembly Hall.

Those voting against were the US, Israel, Austria, Czechia, Guatemala, Liberia, Micronesia, Nauru, Papua New Guinea and Paraguay.

Among those abstaining were the UK, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Argentina, Malawi, the Netherlands, Ukraine, South Sudan, and Uruguay.

Protection of civilians and upholding legal and humanitarian obligations 

The General Assembly, 

Guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, 

Recalling its resolutions regarding the question of Palestine, 

Recalling also all relevant Security Council resolutions, 

Taking note of the letter dated 6 December 2023 from the Secretary-General, under Article 99 of the Charter of the United Nations, addressed to the President of the Security Council,

Taking note also of the letter dated 7 December 2023 from the CommissionerGeneral of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East addressed to the President of the General Assembly,

Expressing grave concern over the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and the suffering of the Palestinian civilian population, and emphasizing that the Palestinian and Israeli civilian populations must be protected in accordance with international humanitarian law,

1. Demands an immediate humanitarian ceasefire;

2. Reiterates its demand that all parties comply with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law, notably with regard to the protection of civilians;

3. Demands the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, as well as ensuring humanitarian access;

4. Decides to adjourn the tenth emergency special session temporarily and to authorize the President of the General Assembly at its most recent session to resume its meeting upon request from Member States.

The resolution does not condemn Hamas or make any specific reference to the extremist group.

UN Photo/Loey Felipe | Results of the General Assembly’s vote on the resolution on “Protection of civilians and upholding legal and humanitarian obligations” during the resumed 10th Emergency Special Session on 12 December 2023.

4:24 PM

The second draft amendment from the US sees 84 in favour, 62 against and 25 abstaining. Again, the amendment fails.

4:22 PM

The first draft amendment has secured 89 for, 61 against and 20 abstentions. This means the Austrian amendment fails under the two-thirds rule.

4:20 PM

A two-thirds majority is required for an adoption of the resolution. The voting process is about to begin, and that rule applies to the amendments as well, explains General Assembly President Francis.

4:08 PM

Israel’s Permanent Representative, Gilad Erdan, said that the General Assembly finds itself “about to vote on another hypocritical resolution.”

United Nations | Ambassador Gilad Erdan of Israel addresses the resumed 10th Emergency Special Session meeting on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

“Not only does this resolution fail to condemn Hamas for crimes against humanity, it does not mention Hamas at all. This will only prolong the death and destruction in the region, that is precisely what a ceasefire means,” he said.

He added that the only intention of Hamas is to destroy Israel and that the group has declared that it will repeat its atrocities again and again until Israel ceases to exist.

“So why would anyone want to aid Hamas in continuing their rule of terror and actualizing their satanic agenda?”, he asked.

“We all know that the so call humanitarian ceasefire in this resolution has nothing to do with humanity. Israel is already taking every measure to facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza,” he added.

He underscored the need to hold Hamas accountable. He said a ceasefire means one thing only – “the survival of Hamas.”

“I honestly don’t know how can someone look in the mirror and support a resolution that does not condemn Hamas and does not even mention Hamas by name,” he said, urging all Member States to vote against the resolution.

3:55 PM

Munir Akram, Pakistan’s ambassador, explaining his country’s position before the votes, said he was confident the “vast majority” of the UN membership would vote for the resolution.

United Nations | Ambassador Munir Akram of Pakistan speaks at the resumed 10th Emergency Special Session meeting on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

He said it was a matter of “deep regret, that some friends of Israel have introduced amendments to once again condemn only one side but exonerate the other.”

He said he was confident that most Members will not agree to place blame only on Hamas, but blame Israel for their role in the bombardment of the “open air prison” that is Gaza.

Following the pause, projectiles of death have rained down on Gaza from Israel’s war machine he said.

“This is a war against the Palestinian people”, he said. “Israel’s goal is to erase not only a people but the entire idea of Palestine. It’s campaign is a carbon copy of the massive campaigns of racial slaughter by other settler colonial regimes in history”, he added.  

3:43 PM

US ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, introducing the US amendment, said that it was yet another resolution that failed to condemn Hamas.

UN Photo/Loey Felipe | Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield of the United States addresses the resumed 10th Emergency Special Session meeting on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

“Our goal must be to stop the death the devastation and the destruction for the long-term and that is simply not a future Hamas wants to see”, she said. 

Ms. Thomas-Greenfield said the US is working towards a “sustainable peace,” and that the country agrees with some aspects of the resolution. “We agree that the humanitarian situation is dire, that it requires urgent and sustained attention…that civilians must be protected, consistent with international humanitarian law.”

The ambassador urged all states to support the Austrian amendment, and to “speak with one voice” to condemn Hamas for its terrorist actions on 7 October: “why is that so hard?” she asked. On the subject of reported sexual violence committed by Hamas during and after the attacks, Ms. Thomas-Greenfield said that the US supports an immediate investigation into the allegations.

She went to declare that US diplomacy had made the recent, week-long humanitarian pause possible, and that the country’s engagement with Egypt and Qatar had made hostage release possible.

3:34 PM

Austria’s ambassador Alexander Marshik said his country “has thoroughly considered the draft resolution before us today,” welcoming the text explicitly demanding the release of all hostages and demanding humanitarian access.

UN Photo/Loey Felipe | Ambassador Alexander Marschik of Austria addresses the resumed 10th Emergency Special Session meeting on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

He called on delegates to accept their short amendment, which cites the role of Hamas in instigating the latest escalation of violence.

“This resolution falls short in many ways, including the right of Israel to ensure its citizens are safe and naming the terrorist group in taking of hostages,” he said.

He said that if the UN Security Council was able to name the extremist group Hamas in a resolution that was adopted, the UN General Assembly “should also have the courage to do the same. We therefore ask all of you to support the amendment.

3:22 PM

Egypt’s ambassador Osama Mahmoud Abdelkhalek Mahmoud, said the resolution was “very simple, clear and explicit”, and long overdue.

“It only includes four operational paragraphs …however, the implementation of these paragraphs are yet to happen, even though the tragic humanitarian situation is unbearable for the Palestinians,” he said.

UN Photo/Loey Felipe | Ambassador Osama Mahmoud Abdelkhalek of Egypt addresses the resumed 10th Emergency Special Session meeting on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

He noted the destruction of the health and humanitarian support system in Gaza, and recalled the letter by the UNRWA Commissioner-General highlighting the dire situation in the enclave.

“The adoption and implementation of [this resolution] which is specifically calling for a ceasefire is the only guarantee for saving innocent civilians,” the Ambassador said.

“The Arab group stresses that the efforts by a minority of States standing against international public opinion” were based on the concept that Israel has a right to defend itself, But he added that as the occupying power, Israel does not have that right, under international law, claiming a “despicable” case of “double standards”, related to Palestinians.

War crimes against Palestinians needed to be addressed, he said.

He said genocide was being used as a tool of war in the case of Palestine, and it left unchecked it would damage the credibility of the whole UN. 

3:10 PM

UN Photo/Loey Felipe | General Assembly President Dennis Francis addresses the resumed 10th Emergency Special Session meeting on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Declaring the 10th Emergency Special Session open once more, Assembly President Dennis Francis highlighted the new request to meet once again in light of the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Mr. Francis opened his statement, saying there was now “an onslaught on civilians, the breakdown of humanitarian systems and profound disrespect for international law and international humanitarian law” being shown by combatants.

Even war has rules and we must not deviate from core principles and values, he said.

Almost 70 per cent of the dead are women and children, he said. 

He said the world was witnessing an “unprecedented collapse” of a humanitarian system “in real time”. The UN must bring an immediate end to the suffering of civilians, he insisted. 

It is high time for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, he said. 

Assembly President Francis underscored the urgency to bring to an end the suffering of innocent civilians.

He reiterated the demand for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.

“We have one singular priority – only one – to save lives,” he stressed. 

“Stop this violence now”, he said.

3:07 PM

The President of the General Assembly Dennis Francis is in his seat just above the iconic podium and has just gavelled the meeting to order.

3:05 PM

The UN General Assembly Hall is filling up with delegates, eagerly anticipating this latest emergency meeting of the world body in New York on the Gaza crisis.

1:40 PM

So far there are 21 co-sponsors of the resolution and two amendments tabled.

Some 79 speakers are scheduled to address the Assembly so far and the session is expected to continue beyond this evening.

The General Assembly meeting comes on the heels of the latest Security Council meeting on Friday which failed to adopt a similar resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and unconditional release of hostages as well as humanitarian access.

That resolution was not adopted owing to a negative vote by a permanent member – United States, 13 Council members voted in favour and the United Kingdom abstained.

The Security Council’s emergency meeting was convened followed the Secretary-General’s invocation of Article 99 of the UN Charter – one of the most powerful tools at his disposal – urging the body to help end carnage in the war-battered enclave.

Check out an explainer on what a UN General Assembly emergency special session is and why it matters

The draft resolution is due to be voted on by the 193-member body, as well as amendments proposed by Austria and the US, respectively.

According to latest information, Egypt is slated to introduce the draft, which has been sponsored by Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, and State of Palestine.

The draft resolution in front of the Assembly this afternoon has some notable differences from the one vetoed by the US in the Council on Friday.

The draft takes note of a 7 December letter from the UNRWA Commissioner General addressed to the President of the General Assembly. In that letter, Philippe Lazzarini warned that the agency’s ability to implement its mandate in Gaza is “severely limited” and that the primary platform for humanitarian assistance to over 2.2 million people in the enclave is “on the verge of collapse”.

The draft also refers to previous resolutions regarding the Question of Palestine as well as the relevant Security Council resolutions on the topic.

It also authorizes the President of the General Assembly to resume the emergency special session, after its temporary adjournment at the end of the latest deliberations.

The key points in common, include an immediate humanitarian ceasefire; demanding that all parties comply with their obligations under international law, notably regarding protection of civilians; and a demand for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, as well as ensuring humanitarian access.

© UNFPA/Bisan Ouda | Internally displaced people rest at a camp near the Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, in southern Gaza.

Austria has proposed an amendment, that inserts the phrase, “held by Hamas and other groups” in relation to the hostages still being held by Palestinian militants in Gaza, as well as inserting the word “immediate” in reference to ensuring humanitarian access.

The US amendment reflects its continued point of contention regarding Hamas, which it designates as a terrorist group, calling for wording to be inserted “unequivocally” rejecting and condemning “the heinous terrorist attacks by Hamas that took place in Israel starting 7 October 2023 and the taking of hostages” as the first operative paragraph.

Resolutions by the General Assembly, though not legally binding on nations, do carry immense moral weight, representing the collective resolve of the UN membership on a matter of grave importance.

These resolutions also lead to key legal frameworks and standards, such as the over 60 human rights instruments underpinning the international rights regime, which emanate from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Declaration was proclaimed by the General Assembly in 1948, and by itself is not binding.

UN Photo/Evan Schneider | General Assembly adopts resolution on Protection of Civilians and Upholding Legal and Humanitarian Obligations in Gaza at its resumed tenth emergency special session, on 27 October 2023.

The session today is a continuation of the tenth emergency special session of the General Assembly that last met on 26 October amid the present crisis in Gaza, during which it adopted a resolution on the crisis, calling for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities.”

Check out the coverage here

At the end of that meeting, the Assembly decided to adjourn the session temporarily and to authorize the President of the General Assembly to resume its meeting upon request from Member States.

The emergency special session is convened pursuant to the Assembly’s 1950 landmark “Uniting for Peace” resolution, under which the body can convene an “emergency special session” within 24 hours, should the Security Council “fail to exercise its primary responsibility” for the maintenance of international peace and security.

The session convened for the first time in April 1997, following a request from Qatar. It followed a series of Security Council and General Assembly meetings regarding the Israeli decision to build a large housing project in an area of East Jerusalem.

The original article appeared here.

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top