Busy First Month For New UNSC Members

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The Knotted Gun sculpture outside the vistors entrance to the UN headquarters in New York City was a 1988 gift from Luxembourg, who join the Security Council for a two-year term on Jan 1 – the first time ever the country has served on the 15-nation body (photo: Denis Fitzgerald)

Dec. 30, 2012 – Argentina, Australia, Luxembourg, Rwanda, and South Korea begin two-year terms on the Security Council Jan 1 with fighting still raging in Syria, nuclear negotiations with Iran deadlocked, and a settlement to the Israel – Palestine conflict more elusive than ever.

January’s shaping up to be a busy month for the council and the the five new members – who replace big powers Germany, India, and South Africa, as well as Colombia and Portugal – are likely to spend their first month occupied by the rebel takeover of parts of the Central African Republic, the recently authorized African force for Mali, and further efforts to find common ground on a solution for Syria.

Rwanda, serving for a second time on the council, will find itself in the spotlight over allegations that it is supporting the mutinous M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The M23 most recently stand accused of shooting at a helicopter belonging to the U.N. peacekeeping force in DRC. Rwanda denies it is supporting the rebels.

South Korea’s expected to immediately begin lobbying the 14 other council members to take strong action against North Korea over Pyongyang’s rocket launch earlier this month.

Australia’s election to the council will put the ‘other’ back in the Western European and Others category and it sees the EU contingent on the council reduced to three (Britain, France and Luxembourg) from four (Germany and Portugal end their terms).

Argentina join Guatemala as the Latin representatives on the council and after recent spats with Britain over the Falkland Islands it will be interesting to see how this dynamic plays out in the council. Colombia consistently sided with Western countries during its term but such cooperation from Buenos Aires is far from guaranteed.

Luxembourg, more noted for its influence in international finance, will find itself having big boots to fill as the sole non-permanent EU representative with Germany and Portugal ending their terms.

(In addition to the five new members, the composition of the council in 2013 will consist of permanent members Britain, China, France, US, and Russia, and non-permanent members Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Morocco, Pakistan, and Togo – the latter five end their terms on Dec 31, 2013).

 – Denis Fitzgerald 

A Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities?

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Eleanor Roosevelt holds a copy of the English draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in this 1948 photo (credit: UN photo)

Dec. 10, 2012 – On this day, 64 years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in Paris. The document, whose 30 articles form the bedrock of the international human rights system, has been translated into a record 402 languages since.

While there are criticisms of the UDHR – that it emphasizes political and civil rights over economic, social and cultural rights; that it fails to mention minorities or people with disabilities; and, more generally, that it is a Western construct – it has exerted significant moral and legal influence over the past six decades.

One of the more interesting propositions in recent years – while not a direct criticism of the UDHR – is that the concept of rights have become so ingrained in society (specifically in Western society) that citizens increasingly ignore their duties and responsibilities as members of society.

The idea of a Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities was first put forward in 1997 and championed by former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt, but the proposal was never acted on by the UN General Assembly – and it’s unlikely to gain traction in the near future. The most significant criticism of the draft declaration is that its 19 articles would embolden autocratic rulers who’d use it to crackdown on people seeking their legitimate rights. Article 14 of the draft also raises significant concerns for a free press.

Nevertheless, the notion of equating human rights with human responsibilities is an interesting one, and some of the articles in the draft human responsibilities declaration – particularly on climate change, sustainable development, and domestic violence – tackle issues not addressed in the original UDHR.

The full-text of the draft Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities is here.

– Denis Fitzgerald 

To know more about the the drafting of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights you should read Mary Ann Glendon’s book A World Made New