UN Security Council open debate: Respect for the principles and purpose of the Charter of the United Nations

Ministry Statements & Speeches:

  • Peace, Rights and Security
Respect for the principles and purpose of the Charter of the United Nations as a key element for the maintenance of international peace and security.

Thank you Minister Rodriguez, I welcome you today as our President and welcome the presence of Ministers from Angola and Spain.

We thank Venezuela for organising this debate and also the Secretary-General for his briefing which we thoroughly endorse.

Madame President.

The international community today faces more concurrent crises, of greater complexity, than at any time since the creation of the United Nations.

In that sense, this Council’s mandate to maintain international peace and security is more relevant and more necessary than ever. 

But the challenges we face – intractable civil wars, entrenched local and regional politics, sophisticated and well-resourced transnational terrorist networks – are very different to those envisaged at the time of the UN’s establishment.

This Council has responded to these dynamic and evolving threats by adapting its response – for example the evolution of peacekeeping, the development of peacebuilding and protection of civilians mandates, the deployment of political missions and innovative responses to the emergence of regional health emergencies. 

It can claim many achievements as a result, in terms of conflicts resolved and lives saved.

But the Council needs to continue developing and evolving its approach if it is to be effective in fulfilling its mandate.  In recent years its capacity to do so has been sorely tested.

The Council did not create the complex conflicts that dominate the international landscape today. But its ability to act decisively to prevent, manage or in some cases even respond to these crises has often been found wanting.  The Council has been slow to act to prevent clearly emerging crises.  And political divisions within the Council have hamstrung its response to full blown crises – Syria being the most obvious recent example. 

We Council members can and must do better. New Zealand is focused on doing what we can to address these shortcomings. 

Today I wish to focus on five areas in which we believe the Council needs to lift its game.

First, we need a more genuine focus on practical problem solving. 

For Permanent and Elected members alike, Council membership brings with it the solemn responsibility for preventing and resolving conflict.  Yet during our time in the Council, very few of discussions in which we have participated could be characterised as genuine attempts at problem resolution.

What we have seen instead are set piece statements, rigid positioning, and attempts to publicly embarrass and undermine other Council members, even within our so-called informal consultations. 

Put simply, few Council members appear to be coming to this Chamber or to the consultations room with ideas on how to solve problems, or even to engage seriously on them. And while we are all culpable, the worst offenders are those who bear the greatest responsibilities under the Charter– the Permanent Members.

This must change.

New Zealand is focused on practical steps that can be taken to achieve even modest progress in improving the dynamics and performance of this Council.

As we set out during our Presidency in July last year, we will continue to push for more informal and unscripted conversations focused on agreeing pragmatic and constructive solutions.

Ultimately, what is required is a change of culture and of mind-set.

Second, this Council must live up to its rhetoric on conflict prevention.

The Council currently finds it extraordinarily difficult to respond quickly and effectively to emerging crises. For example, despite growing evidence of a crisis, it took the Council almost six months to respond to the calls by New Zealand and some others call for a visting Council mission to Burundi.  By the time it did respond, the scope for the mission to have a meaningful impact had shrunk dramatically.

Syria presents an even starker example of this failure. For five years, this Council remained almost completely passive in the face of the deepening conflict, paralysed by disagreements amongst its Permanent Members. The international community, and the Syrian people, are paying the price for this failure, and will continue to do so for decades to come.

And seven years after its last resolution on the matter, the Council remains unable to agree a collective response to the growing instability in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, and the steady erosion of a basis for a negotiated peace.

The Council has a clear responsibility to act in such situations. And it has a range of tools at its disposal for doing so. But it remains strangely reluctant to use them, with discussions on preventive action generally becoming hostage to national or bilateral interests, or bogged down in false dichotomies between intervention and deference to sovereignty.

National sovereignty must be respected. But it is not the only or paramount principle in the Charter. We must not allow it to be used as a shield by those who brutalise their own populations and undermine regional and global security. Those that defend such perpetrators bring discredit upon themselves and this Council.

It must be possible for the Council to conceive of ways of engaging early to deescalate and resolve crises, ways that are effective, respectful of sovereignty, and sensitive to regional leadership.  As we have seen, the consequences of the Council’s failure to act in preventive mode can have far more devastating consequences for a country’s sovereignty.

Part of this challenge lies in finding better and more collaborative ways working with key regional partners, such as the African Union.

Third, we need to sharpen the effectiveness of the tools available to the Council to discharge its mandate.

The report of the High Level Panel on the Future of UN Peace Operations represents an important opportunity in this regard. Over the balance of this year we will work with Council colleague to implement key recommendations to improve the effectiveness of Council mandates, including through greater prioritisation and sequencing of tasks and deployments.

We will also continue to advance our specific proposals regarding enhanced engagement with troop contributors and other key stakeholders in the mandate process and enabling more responsible monitoring and management of risk and performance through enhanced situational awareness.

As I noted during last Thursday’s Debate, we can also improve the effectiveness of sanctions measures by improving the functioning of our subsidiary bodies. This means more timely and informed decision-making; clear strategic direction; and flexibility to respond to changing circumstances.

Fourth, we need to encourage a greater culture of collective decision-making or burden sharing.

This Council continues to hamper its work by unnecessary and outdated procedural constraints and rigidities.  There needs to be more scope for all 15 Council members to make a substantive contribution, and for this to be regarded as a normal and natural manner of operating.

And fifth, the Council must be more consistent in supporting compliance with the international rules to which we have all committed ourselves.

The UN Charter places this Council at the centre of a rules-based international order. It must respond decisively in instances where such rules are undermined and flouted, such as the recent nuclear test and ballistic missile launch by the DPRK, or of gross and systematic abuses of international humanitarian law.

It is particularly important in this regard for the Council to follow through on its own decisions. We need to be more honest in assessing their effective implementation and determining our response where they have been defied or neglected, or have proven ineffective or mistaken. This is as true of peacekeeping mandates and sanctions measures, as it is of ICC referrals, or the obligations imposed by the Council on parties to a conflict. 

To conclude, we cannot afford to lose sight of the Council’s core purpose, and its obligation to the international community and to the millions of human beings whose lives are being distorted by conflict.

The wider UN membership wants to see the Council delivering better on its primary mandate of maintaining international peace and security.

New Zealand does too.

That is why New Zealand wants to work with all Council members and other interested members of the Organisation in making a genuine collective effort focused on solving the problems this Council is tasked to confront.


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