Battle for seats on UN Security Council

Refugee crisis and human rights in spotlight as countries vie for five non-permanent spots

UNITED NATIONS • Three European countries and two Asian nations battled for seats yesterday on the UN Security Council in elections that have drawn attention to the refugee crisis and human rights.

Five non-permanent seats were at stake in the vote at the UN General Assembly, but two are all but decided.

Ethiopia and Bolivia were running unopposed after their regional grouping put them forward as their candidates, but they must still pick up two-thirds of votes cast in the 193-nation assembly.

Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden were competing for two spots while Kazakhstan and Thailand were squaring off for a seat reserved for Asia.

On the eve of the vote, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on UN member states to take a cold, hard look at the human rights records of Kazakhstan and Thailand.

Thailand's military junta, which seized power in May 2014, has banned political activity and ramped up prosecutions under tough sedition and royal defamation laws.

"Thailand's pledges to lead the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide as a Security Council member ring hollow in the face of its widespread abuses at home," said HRW's deputy director for global advocacy, Mr Philippe Bolopion.

ON THAILAND

Thailand's pledges to lead the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide as a Security Council member ring hollow in the face of its widespread abuses at home.

MR PHILIPPE BOLOPION, Human Rights Watch's deputy director for global advocacy.

Vying for a council seat for the first time since its 1991 independence from the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan has been criticised for cracking down on journalists and political activists.

"Debate happens in UN corridors in New York in a way that is not allowed in Kazakhstan itself," Mr Bolopion said.

Italy has lobbied fiercely for a council seat, portraying itself as a crossroads country in the Mediterranean and touting its experience in dealing with the refugee crisis.

"Italy is a global security actor," said Italian Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi during a recent election debate. "We think we are ideally placed to deal with the peace and security issues on the agenda."

Italy is also seen as a player in efforts to pull Libya out of chaos.

The Netherlands, home to the International Criminal Court and other world tribunals, has played up its commitment to international justice while Sweden has highlighted its role as a major aid donor.

Italy and the Netherlands have a "very good chance of winning" seats, said Mr David Malone, rector of the United Nations University.

ITALY'S PITCH

Italy is a global security actor. We think we are ideally placed to deal with the peace and security issues on the agenda.

ITALIAN AMBASSADOR SEBASTIANO CARDI, on why his country should be given a seat on the Security Council.

"Surely Asia, with many governments focused above all on economic and social development in often creative and highly successful ways, can do better" than Thailand and Kazakhstan, he said.

The five elected countries will begin a two-year stint on the council on Jan 1, taking their seats alongside the five permanent council members - Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States.

As the most powerful body of the United Nations, the Security Council can impose sanctions, endorse peace accords and authorise the use of military force. It also oversees 16 peacekeeping missions in the world with a budget of about US$8 billion (S$10.9 billion).

Winning a Security Council seat "is a great PR victory for governments to their constituents", said Dr Martin Edwards, who teaches UN and global governance at Seton Hall University.

The challenge is finding space to influence decisions that are mostly in the hands of the five veto-wielding members.

"They'll have the chance to speak but some states speak more loudly than others," said Dr Edwards.

The other five non-permanent members are Egypt, Japan, Senegal, Ukraine and Uruguay.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2016, with the headline 'Battle for seats on UN Security Council'. Print Edition | Subscribe