Press Conference by Austria on Two-Year Tenure on Security Council

17 December 2010

Press Conference by Austria on Two-Year Tenure on Security Council

17 December 2010
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Austria on Two-Year Tenure on Security Council


During its two years on the Security Council, Austria had chaired three key subsidiary bodies, established an unprecedented ombudsman office for those wishing to be taken off the Consolidated List of individuals and entities associated with Al-Qaida and the Taliban, and perhaps most importantly, overseen the Council’s adoption of resolution 1894 (2009) on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.

“We feel we’re on the Security Council to serve and deal with the business that is on the agenda,” Austria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Thomas Mayr-Harting, said today as he discussed his country’s contributions to the 15-member body at a Headquarters press conference.  Throughout Austria’s 2009-2010 tenure, which will end on 31 December, the rule of law had been a primary focus.

The Council’s adoption of resolution 1894 (2009) was Austria’s most substantive contribution to that issue, he said.  Austria had taken care to ensure that once principles were established — on the need, among other things, for an overall mission strategy for civilian protection and criteria to follow — that they were anchored in subsequent resolutions, especially on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Civilian protection had also been taken up in the contexts of Gaza, and with greater emphasis, of Sri Lanka and currently Côte d’Ivoire.

He said Austria’s commitment to the rule of law was also seen in its chairmanship of the so-called “1267 Committee”, concerning Al-Qaida and the Taliban and associated individuals, where it had carried out a review of the Consolidated List, and initiated others on deceased persons, pending issues and holds issues.  Another review would be started for List entries lacking “identifiers”.  During his tenure, nearly 500 names had been examined and some 45 people had been de-listed.  One more person on the Taliban lists would be de-listed today.  Not including that name, there were 489 List entries — 352 associated with Al-Qaida and 137 with the Taliban.

In such work, the establishment of the Office of Ombudsperson for the 1267 Committee was a main achievement, he said, as, for the first time, those wishing to be de-listed were allowed access to an independent institution that would present their cases to the Council.  Ombudsperson Kimberly Prost was working on her first four cases.

Reform of the 1267 regime, however, was far from over, he said.  Decision-making should adapt away from consensus and a second look taken at the idea of having listings without time limits.  He strongly believed the issue of the “sunset clause” would come up again.  Discussion should continue, not least because the European General Court in Luxembourg had asked about the nature of sanctions.

In other areas, Austria also had chaired the Council’s Working Group on International Tribunals, he said, having taken the lead on nine resolutions to extend judges’ mandates for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.  He expected a resolution establishing a residual mechanism to be voted upon by year-end, possibly before Christmas.

Turning to the Sudan Sanctions Committee, which Austria also chaired, he said the task of ensuring that an arms embargo was carried out in part of that country was no “easy task”.  The Council had received the Committee’s evaluation of the situation and it was now for the Council President to decide whether it would be published as an official document.  While he supported that idea, he also understood there was not yet consensus on the issue.

Taking a question on the most effective configuration for a reformed Security Council, Mr. Mayr-Harting said that was a debate of the General Assembly in which Austria was participating.  Reforms were needed in the Council’s working methods, with flexibility for it to collaborate more with the Peacebuilding Commission.  He agreed that the Council must adapt to current realities.

It was “a good thing” that India and South Africa — recently elected to non-permanent seats — would now have opportunities to present their views in the chamber.  But, “we’re not quite decided on what the best formula would be to ensure this greater presence of the wider world of Africa, of Latin America, of Asia, on the Security Council,” he said.  “We don’t’ believe in extending the right of veto powers is the right way down the road.”   Europe also would have to think about the best way to ensure a growing European voice.

Asked about protection of civilians in Sri Lanka, which had never made its way onto the Council’s agenda, he said Austria had been among the first to urge it to be considered.  While there had been no agreement to place it on the regular agenda, a unique formula had been found in the holding of special informal dialogues, which had allowed the Council to express its opinion and Sri Lanka to outline its position.

That interactive informal dialogue had become a new format for the Council, he said, used for example, to discuss the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT).  But there still must be accountability for what happened in Sri Lanka and he looked to the Government for that, saying the process had not moved to where it should.

Responding to a question on the 1267 Committee, he said the whole system was under challenge by various courts, especially in the European Union.  The situation was approaching a possible decision by the European courts, rendering European Union decisions to transpose the sanctions regime into the European reality null and void because they violated basic principles of European Law.  The European General Court had expressed doubts that reform had been achieved.

Specifically addressing the development of “sunset clauses”, he said the main problem under the present system was that countries decided by consensus to place someone on the List.  Those individuals stayed on the List until consensus was reached on taking them off.  The establishment of the ombudsperson was more than what many had thought possible, thanks to a change of mind in the United States about how to fight terrorism.

“I think members of the Council will be open to look at further reforms,” he added, expressing confidence that the United States would see the value in keeping the 1267 Committee a “living regime”.

Taking a final question on the role of non-permanent Council members, he said they undoubtedly were better informed than those not in the Council.  Given that, they were obliged to share information with others.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.