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SA steps up campaign for UN change

Written by *Sipho Seakamela

International relations

South Africa is campaigning for the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to include African representatives.

Africa, which comprises 54 countries, is not represented in the UNSC, the permanent category of the organisation’s peace and security organ.

As a principal organ of the UN responsible for maintaining international peace and security, the Security Council does not reflect the reality of the 21st century in terms of its composition and working methods. The reformation of the UNSC in both the permanent and non-permanent categories is essential for the Council’s legitimacy and efficiency. About 70% of the Security Council agenda relates to African country-specific situations, while the largest deployment of UN peacekeeping personnel is in Africa, most noticeably in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan. Despite these realities, Africa still does not have a permanent member on the UNSC.

In this context, South Africa has consistently supported the African position, calling for two permanent members and an additional three members in the non-permanent category since the establishment of the inter-governmental negotiation process at the UN. Pretoria has simultaneously collaborated with progre sive UN members within the so-called L.69 Group to speed up negotiations within the inter-governmental process to move beyond rigid positions of member states. With such persistence and the resolve of South Africa and many agents of change at the UN, I am convinced that the ultimate reform of the UNSC is unavoidable.

The world has changed significantly since the UN was established in 1945. For instance, the organisation’s membership has tripled from 51 in 1945 to 193 in 2012 and all African countries, except for the Western Sahara, have become independent. Inter-state conflicts are decreasing while intra-state conflicts are on the rise. However, the world still experiences intractable challenges such as terrorism, climate change and infectious diseases, even as globalisation gains momentum.

Equally importantly, new concepts such as the responsibility to protect, protection of civilians and humanitarian intervention are seemingly questioning the fundamentals of a nation state including sovereignty and territorial integrity.

All these aspects make it important for the UN to review, revitalise and reform itself to become relevant in the 21st century. Accordingly, South Africa and like-minded countries in the African Union and other negotiating groups have supported and insisted on the reform of key UN organs.

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) contrasts sharply to the UNSC because it is more representative. All 193 heads of states attend the UNGA in New York every year. As the main and most representative organ of the UN, the UNGA requires vital revitalisation. In addition, its working methods need to respond effectively to challenges, including those in the three pillars of the UN: security, development and human rights.  It is unsustainable for the assembly to be perceived as merely a rubber stamp of the UNSC decisions and platform for protecting some members of the UN who are often in contravention of the organisation’s values and principles as adopted in the UN Charter. South Africa will continue supporting an enhanced role for the General Assembly in global affairs through its revitalisation process.

Sipho Seakamela is the advisor: President of the General Assembly United Nations General Assembly’s 67th session