Global Policy Forum

Security Council Accused of Overstepping Bounds


By Thalif Deen

Inter Press Service
April 12, 2007

The 130-member Group of 77, the largest single coalition of developing countries, has lashed out at the Security Council, accusing the U.N.'s most powerful political body of violating the organisation's charter by planning an open debate next week on energy, security and climate.

The Security Council's primary responsibility is for the maintenance of international peace and security as set out in the U.N. Charter, according to the G77. All other issues, including those relating to economic and social development, are assigned by the Charter to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the General Assembly.

The G77's strong reaction to the upcoming Security Council meeting, scheduled to take place on Apr 17, is expected to be reflected in a letter to Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry of Britain, current president of the 15-member Council. The decision to send a letter to Jones Parry was taken at a closed-door meeting of the G77 on Thursday. The letter is expected to say that the ever-increasing encroachment by the Security Council on the roles and responsibilities of other principal organs of the United Nations represents a distortion of the principles and purposes of the U.N. Charter, and also infringes on their authority and compromises the rights of the general membership of the United Nations.

Ambassador Munir Akram, current G77 chair and permanent representative of Pakistan to the United Nations, said that some of the G77 members feel that the Security Council has gone beyond its mandate. He said issues such as nuclear non-proliferation and even terrorism are issues for the general membership. "The concept of the Security Council, as I read the U.N. Charter, is that the Council comes into action when there are actual threats to peace, and breaches of the peace," Ambassador Akram told IPS.

On earlier occasions the Security Council had also "encroached" into ECOSOC and General Assembly territory by holding meetings on gender rights, HIV/AIDS, terrorism and U.N. procurement and peacekeeping. Last year, the Group of 77 under the chairmanship of South Africa protested the debate on U.N. procurement. But U.S. Ambassador John Bolton, then president of the Security Council, refused to remove the item from the agenda and continued with the one-day discussion despite protests from the G77. Akram said that some of these thematic issues are not threats to peace or breaches of the peace. But, of course, it is a matter of interpretation.

Terrorism may be a threat to peace, he argued, but the Security Council is not dealing with an actual situation when it is involved in setting norms and creating international laws. "Law-making powers, according my interpretation of the charter, are clearly assigned to the General Assembly, not to the Security Council," he added.

At a press conference last week, Jones Parry told reporters the very fact of holding a meeting on climate change and highlighting it was important. The meeting is to be chaired by British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, but there are no plans either to issue a presidential statement or adopt a resolution on climate change, the British envoy said. Meanwhile, the 117-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) has also criticised the British proposal to hold a meeting on climate change. Ambassador Ileana Nunez Mordoche of Cuba, current NAM chair, has expressed NAM's concerns "regarding the continued and increase encroachment by the Security Council on the functions and powers of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council and other organs through addressing issues which traditionally fall within the competence of the latter organs."

China, which is a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council, is a key member of the Group of 77, along with Ghana, Indonesia, the Republic of Congo, Panama, Peru, Qatar and South Africa -- all rotating non-permanent members of the same Council. Akram said that individual members have the full right to speak in their national capacities. "Some of them have said they will speak at the Security Council meeting while others have said they will not speak because they are challenging the authority of the Council to take up this issue," he told IPS.

The issues of energy and climate change, which will be discussed at the meeting, are considered vital for sustainable development. But the World Summit on Sustainable Development, which took place in Johannesburg in September 2002, assigned responsibilities in the field of sustainable development to the General Assembly, ECOSOC, the Commission on Sustainable Development, the U.N. Environment Programme, the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol.

But "no role was envisaged for the Security Council," Akram said. An Asian diplomat, whose country is a member of the G77, told IPS that intuitively, there would seem to be a nexus between environmental degradation brought about by climate change and the advent of conflict. This is clear to anyone who thinks that conflict is often about securing resources, for example, scarce water resources.

But, the problem that one has in making an intellectual argument -- as to why the Security Council should discuss this -- is that one cannot seem to point conclusively to any one conflict as being an example, he said. "Why is it a threat to international peace and security?" he asked. There seems to be no conclusive study that makes the argument based on scientific research or exhaustive data. "This has given rise to the perception that this debate is being held either simply for the sake of having a debate or just to publicise the issue," he added. Otherwise, Britain should have introduced this as a formal agenda item for the Security Council to discuss. The fact that they are not planning follow-up meetings reaffirms this perception, he noted.



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