Delegates Call for Veto Power Limits, More Permanent Seats for Africa, as General Assembly Concludes Debate on Security Council Reform
The General Assembly concluded its debate on Security Council reform today, with delegates calling for limits on the use of the veto by its permanent members and improved geographical distribution, particularly for Africa, on the 15‑member organ tasked with upholding international peace and security.
Namibia’s delegate echoed long‑standing appeals for Africa to have no fewer than two permanent and five non‑permanent seats in what would become a 26‑seat Council. “Indeed, it is time that the reform process addresses the obstacles caused by the imbalance resulting from the determination by some to preserve their entrenched self‑interests,” he said.
Senegal’s representative, warning against half‑baked measures, emphasized that Africa is the only continent without a permanent seat, yet it accounts for most of the issues on the Council’s agenda. Moreover, the Council must be as efficient as possible so that its decisions have legitimacy and are effectively implemented.
Ukraine’s delegate emphasized that comprehensive Council reform must address the question of the veto, given how permanent members, including the Russian Federation, have wielded that power in breach of their obligation to maintain international peace and security. As such, he called for phasing out the veto as well as immediate initiatives to limit its use, especially in situations of war crimes, genocide and other violations of international law that involve permanent members.
Viet Nam’s representative, whose country is midway through its two‑year term as a non‑permanent Council member, expressed support for more members in the permanent and non‑permanent categories, together with equitable geographical representation, especially for the underrepresented, unrepresented and developing countries.
The Assembly began its annual debate on the agenda item “Question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council and other matters related to the Security Council” on 16 November ahead of a new round of intergovernmental negotiations that were cut short earlier this year by the COVID‑19 pandemic. (See Press Release GA/12288.)
Also speaking today were representatives of the Philippines, Venezuela, Guatemala, Burundi, Lesotho, Congo and Malta.
The Assembly will reconvene on Monday, 23 November at 10 a.m. to, among other things, take action on a draft resolution on cooperation between the United Nations and regional and other organizations. It will also consider a proposal from the Secretary‑General to extend the term of office of Filippo Grandi as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
KIRA CHRISTIANNE DANGANAN AZUCENA (Philippines) said that, 75 years after the founding of the United Nations, the Security Council has not adequately responded to changes on the world political map in terms of representation and effectiveness. Member States must therefore pursue Council reform with vigour. The Philippines supports an enlarged Council of up to 27 members, with fair representation for the Asia and Pacific region. Her delegation has long supported proposals to restrict the use of the veto. Equal or more attention must be given to the Council’s working methods to ensure that its decision‑making process is more transparent and open to the wider membership. On strengthening the relationship between the Council and the General Assembly, she suggested periodic meetings between their presidents.
JORGE ARTURO REYES HERNÁNDEZ (Venezuela) said the intergovernmental negotiations are essential to making the Council more representative and able to face challenges to international peace and security. Despite the COVID‑19 pandemic, the process was able to continue its substantive work, including agreeing on the need for more representation for African countries and calling for improved working methods to increase transparency. As developing countries are most often affected by the conflicts the Security Council addresses, he said these States must be adequately represented, calling for the addition of permanent and non‑permanent members from Africa, Latin America and other regions. Fostering of a constructive environment can avoid a situation where geopolitical concerns trump wider ones. Warning that decisions taken under pressure could lead to further inequality, he called for a holistic solution supported by Member States to be completed before a text‑based process begins.
NEVILLE GERTZE (Namibia), associating himself with the African Group, the African Union Committee of Ten and the common African position articulated in the Ezulwini Consensus and the Sirte Declaration, echoed calls for Africa to have no fewer than two permanent Council seats and five non‑permanent seats. Urging delegations that have not yet done so to express their support for the legitimate aspirations of the African continent, he agreed with China’s calls for a reformed Council that will rectify the imbalance between developed and developing countries. “Indeed, it is time that the reform process addresses the obstacles caused by the imbalance resulting from the determination by some to preserve their entrenched self‑interests,” he said. Africa stands opposed to the veto as a matter of principle, but believes that, as long as it exists, it should be available to all permanent members of an expanded Council. He also called for no fewer than 26 total seats, reiterating that the selection of representatives from the continent’s States to the permanent member category will be determined by the African Union.
OMAR CASTAÑEDA SOLARES (Guatemala) observed that Member States entrust the Council with the responsibility of maintaining international peace and security with the assumption that it represents the United Nations membership as a whole. Calling for more transparency in the Council’s work and more permanent and non‑permanent seats, he said there must be better interaction between the Council, Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations and troop‑contributing countries so missions can be fully transparent. As for the veto power, it must only be used in line with United Nations practices to avoid the worsening of international crises. Turning to the intergovernmental negotiations, he said a text will allow Member States to begin discussions immediately.
EVARISTE NGENDANKENGERA (Burundi), associating himself with the African Group, said the Assembly‑mandated intergovernmental negotiations represent the only legitimate mechanism to discuss Council reform, guided and led by Member States on the basis of equality. He underscored Burundi’s support for the common African position outlined in the Ezulwini Consensus and the Sirte Declaration, adding that as long as the veto exists, it must be available to all permanent Council members, including new ones. In‑person meetings of forthcoming intergovernmental negotiations would be more effective than virtual ones, and discussions should concentrate on substantive issues.
DANG DINH QUY (Viet Nam) recalled that since the Council was last expanded 55 years ago, 73 countries have joined the United Nations. In this context, he expressed support for an enlargement of the Council in permanent and non‑permanent categories with equitable geographical representation, especially for the underrepresented and unrepresented and developing countries. The reform should contribute further to upholding international law and negotiations must be conducted in good faith, with mutual respect and in an inclusive and transparent manner.
THABANG EDWIN TLALAJOE (Lesotho), associating himself with the African Group, said the Council must resist the temptation to view questions of international peace and security through lenses of national fears and preoccupations. “If it is paralyzed by parochial interests, the temptation for unilateral action increases,” he said, stressing that instead it should be made more representative, transparent and accountable. Advocating for reform in line with the Ezulwini Consensus and the Sirte Declaration, he said the historical injustice committed against Africa must be reversed with no fewer than two permanent seats — in addition to the non‑permanent seats — allocated for the continent. Also voicing support for efforts to abolish the veto power, he said that, should it continue to exist, it should be availed to all permanent members on an enlarged Council.
MAMADOU RACINE LY (Senegal), associating himself with the African Group, said it is high time to reform the Council to better reflect current challenges and the international community’s aspirations. For Africa, this reform is a necessity and would go a long way towards rectifying historic injustices. “This is urgent for our continent because it is the only continent which is not represented among the permanent members,” he pointed out, noting that Africa also occupies the greatest portion of the Security Council’s agenda. More balanced and fair representation in the Council would ensure that the organ can fully shoulder its role in maintaining international peace and security. Moreover, the Council must be as efficient as possible so that its decisions have legitimacy and are effectively implemented. Calling on the international community to move from words to deeds, he called for greater determination and political will to agree on the five key questions at hand as well as their interconnections. A fragmented approach or halfway solutions are not possible, he warned.
MAURICE GATIEN MAKIZA (Congo) said that the African demand for two permanent Council seats, with all the accompanying privileges, as well as two non‑permanent seats remains legitimate. That would help to correct an historic injustice, given that Africa accounts for nearly a third of all Member States, he said, noting that the common African position enjoys massive support. Reforms should make the Organization more dynamic while also taking today’s realities into account. Seventy‑five years on, the challenges are different and so are the stakes. In addition, the Council’s working methods and its relations with the Assembly are questions that would help to improve the Organization’s image.
FRANCESCA CASSAR (Malta), associating herself with the Uniting for Consensus Group, reiterated that Council reform is at the core of broader United Nations efforts. Calling for convergence across all five clusters of issues, she said special attention must be given to addressing categories of membership and regional representation, adding that all Member States have voiced support for increased non‑permanent membership. On the issue of regional representation, the Uniting for Consensus Group proposed a 26‑member Council of which 21 seats will be for non-permanent members, including 6 non‑permanent seats for African States. “Malta is committed to a Council which assigns all Member States equality and opportunity to seek global solutions to global issues,” she concluded.
YURIY VITRENKO (Ukraine) said intergovernmental negotiations should begin as soon as possible, with text‑based discussions being the best way to break the annual cycle of delegations repeating their positions. As the Eastern European Group is one of the most underrepresented, he said one additional seat in the category of elected members should be granted. On the veto question, he emphasized that it has been used by permanent Council members, including the Russian Federation, in breach of their obligation to maintain international peace and security. As such, he called for phasing out veto power and for immediate initiatives to limit its use, especially in the case of war crimes, genocide and other violations that permanent members are involved in. More broadly, he said, the absence of progress on main reform issues will affect the Council’s ability to respond to current challenges and reduce the legitimacy of its decisions.