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UN stakeholders Security Council called to account

The new group of nations led by Switzerland want reforms of the Security Council


Switzerland and more than a dozen other countries are demanding more accountability, coherence and transparency from the United Nations Security Council. A timely and worthwhile move, says Richard Dicker, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch.

The council, responsible for international peace and security under the UN charter, should improve its working methods, according to the new group of states, which was officially launched last week.

The vast majority of states are not represented on the 15-member council, which includes five nations with permanent status and veto power – the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain. Nevertheless, all UN members are obliged to implement its decisions.

"The key point is that the whole UN membership sees itself as the stakeholders of these enormously important issues of international peace and security,” Dicker, director of the Human Rights Watch international justice programme, told

“From that point of view I think it is important that the group has constituted itself. It opens the door for real, exciting possibilities in seeing that there is pressure on the Security Council to be more accountable, consistent and transparent when it comes to situations of the most serious crimes that indeed threaten international peace and security."

The group, coordinated by Switzerland, will concentrate solely on reforms of working methods – “concrete and pragmatic steps” are the terms used – and will steer clear of the discussion about the blocked overall reform of the council.

“Outstanding obstacle”

Among the issues the group wants to tackle will be the annual report of the Council, or the contact between the Security Council and the vast majority of UN member states not represented on the Council. Another – under the heading accountability – is that limits should be placed on the use of the veto.

In the eyes of the group, veto powers should not be used in cases of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Dicker said there will need to be some way of rethinking on the part of the permanent five members though.

“I think that is the outstanding obstacle: their desire to continue to do business the way it has been done. So, let's have no illusion that the launching of this group will somehow open doors easily that have been jammed shut for years if not decades,” he said.

"One needs to have expectations that take into account the power that the Council's permanent members have by virtue of the UN charter."

Network of states

The 20 or so states that belong to the group presented under the acronym ACT – accountability, coherence and transparency – pick up where Switzerland together with four other small countries left off last year when they withdrew a resolution to reform the council that had met too much resistance.

The new group has a broader regional base, including some 20 small and medium-size countries.

It sees itself as a network of states with a flexible approach and is organised in various teams working on different issues, on different tracks and advancing at different speeds.

"If progress is to be made, this is the only way this will happen. Not confrontational,” Dicker said.

“I think that's smart, a growing number of member states making clear the need for evolution in the working methods of the Council on issues of human rights and accountability."

The group also wants to look for ways to improve preventive diplomacy by the Council to avert the outbreak of armed conflicts. Dicker says this is far from a minor point in the wider scope of the group’s goals.

"Some atrocities would not happen if the international community was better at getting its act together earlier,” he pointed out. ”And it's hard to say that without thinking of what's happening in Syria day after day."

The ACT group

ACT currently composes the following countries: Austria, Chile, Costa Rica, Estonia, Finland, Gabon, Hungary, Ireland, Jordan, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania (observer status) and Uruguay.

One delegation assumes the role of the coordinator. Currently this function is assumed by Switzerland. The group is open for more states to join.

ACT can be seen as a follow-up to the group of five small states (Switzerland, Costa Rica, Jordan, Liechtenstein and Singapore) that had been working on improvement of the working methods of the Security Council between 2005 and 2012.

The group’s input and work did have some success, leading to a series of improvements of working methods by the Security Council.

ACT recognises and commends past efforts of the Security Council. However, in the view of ACT, “additional measures are needed to enable the Council to genuinely carry out its mandate. The current implementation of measures already adopted remains inconsistent and unsatisfactory”.

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