Topic: The role of the UN General Assembly in international peace and security, with a focus on conflict-related humanitarian crises

Presenter: Rebecca Barber, PhD candidate, UQ School of Law 

Advisors: Prof Anthony Cassimatis, Prof Alexander Bellamy

Time: 1-3pm, 5 May 2020

Zoom link



In recent years, the UN Security Council has proved unable to effectively respond to humanitarian crises involving widespread human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law.  Under the UN Charter, the Security Council has primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security. However, the Council’s intractability in the face of major current crises is prompting an increasing number of scholars to query whether the Council may be legally circumvented.  As part of this, the residual responsibility of the General Assembly has garnered increased attention.

Under the UN Charter, the General Assembly has a secondary responsibility for international peace and security.  The Assembly has frequently acted upon this responsibility in the past, making bold recommendations to states in situations as diverse as struggles for self-determination and independence, civil conflicts, South African apartheid and acts of aggression.  Such activism is a far cry from the Assembly’s current inertia on humanitarian crises such as Syria, Myanmar and Yemen. 

My thesis investigates the scope of the General Assembly’s powers to engage in matters of international peace and security, with a particular focus on conflict-related humanitarian crises.  It first provides an analysis of the Assembly’s legal competence, and then analyses the Assembly’s history of engagement in matters of international peace and security, and the implications of this practice for the way in which the Assembly’s competence has evolved in customary international law.  The second part of my thesis investigates the Assembly’s powers in relation to particular spheres of action – namely, humanitarian assistance, sanctions, and international criminal justice – and considers how these powers could be more constructively utilised in current humanitarian and human rights crises.