NEW YORK, 21 OCTOBER 1998
STATEMENT BY AMBASSADOR ANTÓNIO MONTEIRO, PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE OF PORTUGAL TO THE UNITED NATIONS, TO THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY 53rd SESSION (report of the Security Council)
On the 31st of December, Portugal will conclude its current mandate as a member of the Security Council. This mandate was conferred by the General Assembly through elections, an honour and responsibility that we accepted with utter seriousness and have tried to exercise fully and effectively.
The task the Council is entrusted with is a primary purpose of the United Nations Charter: the maintenance of international peace and security. To this end, Portugal and the other members of the Council are mandated to act on behalf of all the Members of the United Nations. This task is not an easy one; I agree with the distinguished Permanent Representative of Swaziland who described it as almost needing divine inspiration. But it is one which the members of the Council, including Portugal, undertake to perform on behalf of all those Member States that have seats in this General Assembly.
Acting on behalf of the UN members implies, in our view, that the Council is also accountable to them. This does not in any way weaken the authority of the Council. On the contrary, it reinforces it, by providing a clearer picture of its activities and a better understanding of its responsibilities. This is why Portugal has struggled with others to help bring about a more transparent Council with full participation by Member States.
The consideration of the Report of the Security Council by the general Assembly today is the very expression of that accountability.
Furthermore, the report is important as it preserves for posterity the memory of this principal organ of the UN. Hence the need to be informative, accurate and comprehensive in the Report.
As was underlined by the President of the Council, this Report is indeed more informative than previous years and permits a better understanding of the work of the Security Council. More reader-friendly, the report includes assessments by the various Presidents of the Council of its activities carried out during their respective presidencies, providing interesting and further insights on the work carried out by the Council. After my first presidency in April 1997, I wrote the first assessment of the work of the Security Council during that month, which was made available to all Member States at the time. This paved the way for the current practice of the Council to be established.
While focused on the past, this Report does at the same time, in our view, reveal a new trend for the future. A future where participation is not merely a theoretical stipulation but also a concrete reality.
Members of the Council have understood the importance of following this trend. They have suggested various measures for improving the methods of work of the Council and increasing the participation of the general membership in its work. In an annex to the assessment of the Permanent Representative of Costa Rica, you will be able to see a letter that was sent last December by ten members of the Council containing their suggestions as a result of the experience they gathered in the Security Council, five of which were at the end of their term while the other 5 were half way through theirs. This was an important initiative that generated a useful discussion on the methods of work among members of the Council, as well as in the Working Group on Documentation and Procedures.
Very soon, we hope, additional measures will be ready for consideration by the Council which may allow an improved participation by Member States in its work - namely by those States that contribute to peace-keeping operations - and pave the way for the Council to enhance the transparency of its work, through an increased number of public meetings.
The efforts towards transparency must be pursued consistently and continuously.
I am confident that this work will carry on. Others will follow in our footsteps and continue to strive for these goals. I am encouraged by the strong will expressed in this direction by all the new members of the Council, recently elected for 1999-2000, over the need persistently to enhance the transparency of the Council, increase the participation of Member States in its work and improve the relationship between the Council and the General Assembly. I recall, particularly, the words of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada, the Honorable Lloyd Axworthy, who called for, during the General Debate recently, a more open and transparent Security Council and for the full exercise of the rights of participation of Members States in its work, as conferred by the Charter. "Far from reducing its ability to take decisions, this way of proceeding will improve its decisions and will increase the efficiency of its actions", he said wisely.
The increase in the membership of the Security Council is currently at a stalemate. It is, therefore, important to press for a change in the methods of work of the Council. This course of action might even facilitate at a later stage the consideration of the question of equitable representation of the General Membership in the Council, more adjusted to the current international situation. No doubt the Security Council would thus increase its legitimacy.
The work carried out in the framework of the General Assembly by the "Open Ended Working Group" will continue, in our view, to represent a decisive contribution to that end. The important goals that we want to achieve require, therefore, the efforts both of the Council and the General Assembly.
The challenges raised by the various conflicts and disputes in the world today continue to call for a strong Security Council. Its authority and efficiency must, therefore, be preserved. We should discourage confrontation or division among UN organs or between these and regional organizations. We should encourage the respect for the specific powers they have been invested with and promote the coordination of efforts among them towards achieving our common goals. The Council, very recently, following a public debate on Africa, demonstrated its openness towards this objective and, through resolution 1197, established a comprehensive framework of cooperation with regional organizations in Africa, which we are confident will serve as a model for other parts of the world and other regional organizations.
Within the UN, different organs complement one another in performing their functions. This notion of complementarity, a cornerstone of the structure created by the Charter, requires not only transparency of the organs but also the full exercise of initiative on their part. As we said before, the Security Council has to do more to improve transparency of its methods of work and improve the participation by Member States. As a key player, the General Assembly should also have a more dynamic role in this regard and continue to take the necessary steps towards the same goal.
The Secretary-General, through his action in the process he is conducting to reform the organization and in his initiatives has shown us how to move forward, giving form to the very notion of complementarity of the organs within the United Nations. Let us follow his example and the impetus he has created and continue to try from within the General Assembly, in a convergent action, to improve the relationship with the Security Council and to ensure an enhanced flow of information and a greater participation by the general membership in the work of that organ.
The work of the Council is quite demanding. The Security Council must act promptly with regard to events around the world. There is an increased expectation of the international community with regard to the response by the Council to the various conflicts or disputes. Members of the Council feel this pressure. They know they must act quickly but effectively in each of the situations with which they are faced every day in the Council. As reflected in the annual report, the Council is increasingly spending more and more time on its work in comparison with previous years.
This situation raises particular difficulties for smaller States with Missions that do not easily support the heavy burden that the work in the Council represents. This is an important challenge for these States, which must turn the difficulties in their work into incentives for an effective term on the Council.
We know that in the exercise of the functions of the Council, there is sometimes a tendency to rely on the work of the permanent members. I would like to stress, however, that there is a fundamental role to be played by the elected members within the Council, and in particular by smaller states. Often, it is these smaller states that are in a better position to understand the situations of conflict and dispute, either because they are geographically closer or they have similar economic, social and political conditions. Their contributions are, therefore, very important in assessing situations and evaluating solutions to enable better decisions by the Council.
This does not undermine the role of either the Permanent Members or that of other larger states in the work of the Council. In fact, the power of the Council lies in the ability of its Members to complement each other, through their diverse perspectives, and to merge in a coherent decision. The binding nature of the decisions of the Security Council, as determined by the Charter, only highlights this importance.
Let me underline, Mr. President, some other issues to which we have dedicated a considerable part of our efforts during Portugals mandate in the Council.
The General Assembly, through the adoption of resolution on an Agenda for Peace, has made an important contribution on the subject of sanctions, developing new ideas on sanctions regimes and suggesting practical measures to improve their implementation. It was a challenge to which the Council has yet to respond.
Portugal remains committed to engaging the Council in a profound reflection over this issue which is, today, a matter of concern for the international community, as clearly reflected in the General Assembly resolution, bearing in mind the increasing number of sanctions regimes and their impact on the international relations.
As Chairman of the Security Council Committee established by resolution 661 concerning the situation between Iraq and Kuwait, and following the implementation of the most comprehensive humanitarian operation ever undertaken by the UN, I am very aware of the difficulties in the implementation of sanctions, their efficiency and their side effects. The Committee has undertaken all efforts in order to improve the implementation of the humanitarian operation and the results are positive. The cooperation of the Iraqi Government with the Secretary-General and his initiatives in adapting the structures of the Secretariat have been crucial to the success of the operation which aims at alleviating the suffering of the Iraqi people, as a result of eight years of the most severe sanctions imposed by the United Nations, which have, unfortunately, yet to achieve their desired objectives. The Council should reflect profoundly on this. Despite the size of the humanitarian programme it is not sufficient to resolve all the problems of the Iraqi people; after all, it was not conceived as such. In its implementation, however, all interested parties have been learning with their daily experience in this operation, which started almost two years ago.
Other Chairpersons of Sanctions Committees have their own experience in implementing different sanctions regimes. The experience gathered so far should not be lost. It should be kept for the benefit of the Council and future members. With this purpose in mind, we are engaged with members of the Council in a discussion on new measures to help future improvement in the implementation of sanctions, as well as to prevent their negative humanitarian impact through a better targeting of their effects. This subject should be the object of discussion by the entire membership and a public debate should be prompted on the issue. We believe that the Council would benefit from this; from receiving different views and suggestions that would be presented.
Portugal considers that a public debate of thematic aspects particularly relevant for the work of the Council is an important part of its activities. Early on in our mandate, I proposed an open debate on post-conflict peacebuilding, which I considered would be useful for the Council to identify crucial issues relevant to its own decisions. I am happy to see that thematic debates have become an important part of the programme of the Council. We are also encouraged by the interest expressed by Members States in participating in these public meetings of the Council.
This holds true also for the open debates that the Council has held on specific issues with the participation of representatives of UN Agencies and the Secretariat. We welcome the greater participation in the work of the Council by high level representatives of the Secretariat and UN agencies, such as UNHCR, UNICEF and the High Commissioner for Human Rights. To overcome the challenges that the Council is faced with today, we need their input and their invaluable experience. That is why we have always supported their participation in meetings of the Council.
Among these I recall the meetings on Children in Armed Conflicts, which was held during the June Presidency of Portugal this year, and more recently on the Protection for Humanitarian Assistance to Refugees and Others in Conflict Situations, in which the contributions of interested parties were very important to the action subsequently undertaken by the Council.
The Security Council should listen more to other actors in the international scene, who outside the UN or the intergovernmental framework, have deep knowledge of international issues, follow closely the problems associated with the resurgence of conflicts and undertake many actions to help prevent them.
I wish to make a reference here to non-governmental organizations as representing civil society, which have been kept apart from the work of the Council. Their activities have proved to be crucial in the process of pacification of international conflicts, in which, facing considerable risks, they continue to assist people in need.
In fact, the Council, in its decisions, has appealed frequently to NGOs, acknowledging, therefore, the importance of their action in the prevention of conflicts and in the peacebuilding efforts of the United Nations. The importance of these organizations in preventing illicit arms trafficking by helping Security Council Sanctions Committees to monitor violations of arms embargoes has also been recognized recently by the Council in its resolution 1196.
The Secretary General, on his part, in a recent conference last month, underlined the important role played by NGOs, "in raising the public awareness, tweaking the worlds conscience and shaping policy". Calling for a partnership, he has demonstrated how cooperation is increasing between the UN and NGOs, with mutual benefits in several areas. This implies, naturally, more responsibility on the part of NGOs, which have "to protect themselves against the abuse of the NGO idea; protect their invaluable franchise".
We do not see the reason why the Council should keep itself closed to the important source of information and assistance that these organizations represent. It should, in fact, listen carefully to them, encourage and protect their action towards the prevention and resolution of international conflicts. We are, therefore, encouraged by positive signs within the Council in this regard.
The Security Council maintains a close and daily relationship with the press. The nature of the matters considered by the Council requires prompt dissemination of information all over the world. The press amplifies the decisions taken by the Council. The relationship between them is thus of the utmost importance to the efficiency of those decisions. The Council should make all the necessary efforts to preserve that relationship and to prevent the effects of partial or imperfect information. The gap between what appears in the newspapers, with regard to the work of the Council, and the information that its President is mandated to convey to the press is, unfortunately, increasing. This permits different interpretations of the will of the Council. The way is, therefore, open to the manipulation of information, which, in our view, should be firmly prevented.
As to Member States, the information is mainly conveyed through briefings by the Presidency of the Council. We believe that those briefings are the best way to ensure the objectivity and impartiality of the information on the work of the Council. We have tried, during our presidencies, to hold regularly these briefings immediately upon conclusion of the consultations of the whole, recognizing the importance for member States of prompt information on the different subjects under consideration by the Council. These briefings should be further encouraged and improved, as they constitute appropriate channels of information to Members States outside the Council, and prevent information from unduly influenced by national interests.
The experience of Portugal in the Council has been highly gratifying, even if we feel a certain amount of frustration for all that would like to have done but for which we have run out of time. We admire the tireless work carried out by all its members, my colleagues in the Council, in its daily activities, which is of vital importance to the international community. We know better, now, how difficult it is to have the burden of taking decisions that affect so many countries, regions and people.
The ideas I have just put forward do not represent a criticism of the Council. They should rather be envisaged as constructive inputs. We will leave the Council with an even greater respect for its role and its action, which is fundamental for the preservation of peace and international security.
Once outside the Council, we will continue to strive for an even better Security Council, more representative and transparent, not losing sight of the need to preserve its efficiency. We will not see it as a distant body. The renovation of the Council is also a way of bringing it closer to the general membership of the UN. On the other hand, we are confident that within the Council, efforts will continue to pursue these goals. Its members are fully aware that this is the not only the expectation but also the will of the international community. And it is the international community, after all, that the Security Council represents.