27th Plenary Meeting - General Assembly 75th Session

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16-Nov-2020 03:15:21
Security Council must reflect twenty-first century realities, delegates tell General Assembly, with many calling for urgent expansion of permanent seats.

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The realities of the twenty-first century world urgently require a reformed and expanded United Nations Security Council, particularly righting the historical injustice of Africa’s exclusion from permanent seats, delegates told the General Assembly today.

Assembly President Volkan Bozkir (Turkey), opening the day-long debate, said Security Council reform is “an unavoidable imperative, both challenging and essential”. He urged Member States to seek the broadest possible consensus, working to resolve their differences. “This process can and should be an opportunity to correct the problems of structure and functioning of the Council,” he said. “It should not create new privileges and new problems.”

A number of delegates called for reform to include expanding the 15‑member Council beyond the current five permanent seats, held by China, France, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and the United States, and its non-permanent membership. Italy’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the Uniting for Consensus Group, advanced a proposal envisioning a 20‑seat Council, with 9 long-term permanent seats distributed among regional groups. The remaining seats would be held for two-year terms, with the opportunity for incumbents to seek re-election. Such a model would greatly enhance regional representation and increase the Council’s legitimacy while also creating more opportunities for all Member States to participate.

Sierra Leone’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said current geopolitical realities and the global health crisis make a compelling argument for African representation. Reiterating Africa’s call for two permanent seats and two non-permanent seats on the Council, he said it is a matter of common justice, a view that enjoys broad support from Member States, as acknowledged by the co-chairs of the intergovernmental negotiations process.

A number of delegates agreed. The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, speaking on behalf of the L.69  group of developing countries from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific, said the reform process must build on the overwhelming support shown for the common African position outlined in the 2005  Ezulwini Consensus and the Sirte Declaration.

The representative of China echoed the historical injustice endured by African countries, further pointing to the lack of representation between nations of the North and South. Reform must focus on equality between big and small States, strong and weak, rich and poor, he added, pointing out that more than 60  countries have never held a Council seat.

With entire regions still excluded from permanent membership, Barbados’ delegate, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said the Council has not kept pace with the evolution of United Nations membership, raising concerns about its representativeness. The perpetuation of that status quo means the Council lacks the benefit of important perspectives and experiences in its work, she said, calling for a guaranteed presence for small island developing States and for that organ to adapt to new political realities.

Other delegates opposed expansion. As the five permanent members cannot currently agree on disputes, Pakistan’s representative said adding new ones will increase the possibility of paralysis. “We cannot throw oil on the fire,” he said. Rejecting the idea of extending privileges to new Council members, Colombia’s delegate said it would not increase transparency. Instead, the Uniting for Consensus proposal would open the door for developing countries to contribute to the Council’s work on an equal footing.

Several permanent Council members, including those from the Russian Federation and United Kingdom, supported the idea of expanding the organ to about 20 members. Echoing that position, France’s delegate also expressed support for a stronger presence for African States and the permanent membership of Brazil, Germany, India and Japan. The United States representative said his delegation is open to a modest expansion in permanent and non-permanent categories as long as it does not diminish the Council’s effectiveness or impact veto power.

The legitimacy of the veto was a common theme heard through the day, with Kuwait’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, noting it has often been arbitrarily used, undermining the Council’s credibility and making it incapable of discharging its duties. Over the past three decades, the veto has often addressed States in his region, he said, which represents 350  million people and 22  nations, and many of the issues on the Council’s agenda relate to the Arab Group’s members, requiring equitable representation to guarantee the credibility and legitimacy of relevant Council’s resolutions.

Turkey’s representative said veto power has only served the national interests of those who hold it and that increasing the number of States with that power will only make the Council more dysfunctional. Mexico’s delegate added that while eliminating the veto is a legitimate aspiration, limiting its use with immediate effect is a more realistic goal. In this regard, a proposal by Mexico and France to restrict veto use in cases of mass atrocities has already drawn 105 signatories. Indeed, he said, the right of veto is not an award or a privilege that whets an appetite for increasing the number of permanent seats.

In broader procedural terms, several delegates lamented the interruption of the intergovernmental negotiations process due to the COVID‑19 pandemic, but saw the current session as an opportunity to sustain momentum. Brazil’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Group of Four (Germany, India, Japan and his own country), said the General Assembly should be prepared to meet under any circumstances. Meanwhile, Algeria’s delegate said in-person meetings remain the ideal format for intergovernmental negotiations. The representative of India said the pandemic should not be an excuse to stall forthcoming intergovernmental negotiations by insisting on in-person meetings only.

Also speaking were representatives of Denmark (on behalf of the Nordic countries), Australia, Spain, Canada, Argentina, Republic of Korea, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Japan, Switzerland, Morocco, Libya, Singapore, Malaysia, Mongolia, Costa Rica, Bulgaria, South Africa, Liechtenstein, Equatorial Guinea, Maldives, Ecuador, Slovenia, Iran, Bangladesh, Kenya, Belarus, Indonesia, Estonia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Georgia, Bhutan, Zimbabwe, Germany, Cambodia, Syria, Nigeria, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Croatia, Ireland, Myanmar and Ethiopia.

The representative of Japan spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The General Assembly will meet again at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 17 November, to conclude the debate.

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