UN Security Council reform: Talks focus on points of accord

United Nations, Feb 8 (IANS) Security Council reform negotiations have begun with a focus on points of accord by looking at the relationship between it and the 193-member United Nations General Assembly in a bid to smoothen the way for dealing later with the more contentious issues like adding permanent members, according to diplomatic sources.

At the first session on Wednesday of the Intergovernmental Negotiations (IGN) on Security Council Reform, using a negotiating text adopted in September after years of wrangling, its head, Sylvie Lucas, astutely turned the spotlight to the theme of “Relationship between the Council and the General Assembly,” an area with more agreement than discord, and so the talks could begin without rancour.

She asked the members to look for areas of “convergence” instead of repeating their differing positions, the sources said. This was the first meeting chaired by Lucas, who is Luxembourg’s Permanent Representative, after her appointment last year as the chair of the IGN. A diplomat who was at the closed meeting told IANS that while there were some differences, overall there was more of a “confluence of ideas”, and heated debates as in previous meetings were avoided.

Most countries at the session agreed on redefining the relationship between the two bodies, emphasising that the Council – comprising the five permanent members (US, UK, Russia, France and China) and 10 non-permanent members elected for two-year terms – should stop “encroaching” on areas that are the mandate of the Assembly, the heads of the two bodies should consult regularly and that the Council report comprehensively on its work to the Assembly. This account of the closed-door meeting was put together by IANS from conversations with sources who attended the meeting.

Even countries like Pakistan, which had opposed holding text-based negotiations mainly to prevent a reform that adds new permanent members to the Council, joined in criticising the Council’s relationship with the Assembly and made suggestions to improve it.

Speaking on behalf of India, Brazil, Germany and Japan, which are known as the G4, Tokyo’s Permanent Representative Motohide Yoshikawa emphasised that the negotiating text had been adopted unanimously and that Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft had asked the IGN to continue negotiations based on the text. The four members of the G4 jointly work for reforms and mutually support each other’s bid for permanent seats on an expanded Council.

Yoshikawa said the G4 strongly supported Lucas’ “guideline that we should try to identify areas of convergence rather than repeating our known positions on major issues”. In addition to the most common suggestions for improving Council-Assembly relations, G4 called for getting inputs from the Peacebuilding Commission and the heads of its country specific panels in Council discussions.

India did not speak as the G4 had agreed to have Japan as the collective voice at the meeting. Japan became an elected member of the Council for a two-year term last month. Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida also set up last month a “Strategic Headquarters” in his ministry to intensify the push for reforming and expanding the Council.

Another group to which India belongs, the L69 that includes 42 countries from Africa, Latin America and Asia supporting Council reform and expansion, noted that it shared the views of the 54-member African Union and the 15-member Caribbean group known as CARICOM on restructuring relations between the Council and the Assembly.

Speaking on L69’s behalf, Saint Lucia’s Permanent Representative Menissa Rambally said L69 will work with a “spirit of building further convergence among member states”. The African Union and L69 said the Council should consult countries contributing troops to the UN peacekeeping operations on the mandates and their implementation.

The expansion of the Council also came up at the meeting. Speaking on behalf of the African Union, the largest regional group at the UN, Sierra Leone’s Permanent Representative Vandi Chidi Minah said the African nations should have two veto-wielding permanent members in an expanded Council.

But Pakistan’s Permanent Representative Maleeha Lodhi opposed adding any permanent members, calling it a sterile move as they would not be accountable to those they are supposed to represent.

She was however in agreement on criticising the Council’s functioning. According to Pakistani media reports, she said the UN was seen as losing its moral legitimacy and this “can only be reversed if the Security Council in its decision making takes into account the collective voice of the General Assembly – as envisaged in the UN Charter”.

On Council-Assembly relations, Minah spoke of how matters concerning Africa were decided with little input from it. He also expressed concern over the Council going beyond its Charter mandate of maintaining peace and security by encroaching into areas like development that are the responsibilities of the Assembly, a view shared by India, the L69 and others.

Russia’s Permanent Representative Vitaly Churkin backed the developing countries’ complaint about the Council’s encroachment into Assembly responsibilities. But fellow Council permanent member Britain hotly contested it, maintaining that the Council was within its mandate to take up such matters as they ultimately impact peace and security.

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