Can New Zealand take on the world?

17 October 2014, 01:00 UTC | New Zealand
UN General Assembly room. © Carolina Penafiel/Control Arms.
By Susan O'Connor - Research Intern at Amnesty International NZ

The Rwandan genocide in 1993–1994 coincided with New Zealand’s presidency on the UN Security Council (UNSC). We tried in vain to rouse the UNSC to action, but were lauded for our moral fortitude in doing so. Global crises, coupled with consistent UNSC inaction, make it obvious to even the casual observer that the Council is in desperate need of a conscience like New Zealand’s.

In 2012, Kofi Annan chastised the UNSC for “finger-pointing and name calling” instead of taking real steps to address the Syrian civil war. The conflict continues to rage today, and the Islamic State commits horrific human rights abuses and war crimes across Syria and Iraq. The UNSC has yet to provide an adequate response.

Enter New Zealand.

Today we won a non-permanent seat on the UNSC, making it 21 years since we last held the reins on international peace and security. Given the recent paralysis gripping the UNSC, what can we actually do?

Firstly, we can follow our predecessors’ lead and adopt a position of self-interest. By promoting human rights in situations of crisis, we will cement the moral reputation we earned in 1994. By ensuring human rights is at the core of every discussion we enter, we will gather allies and send a clear message to the world: New Zealand may be golfing with the big boys, but we have principles we are prepared to stand by.

The truth is, the UNSC needs more member states that understand the definition of ‘international peace and security’. Ones that aren’t afraid of revoked memberships, and will make a genuine effort to contribute to global security.

Secondly, New Zealand can rally support for veto reform. The “P5” permanent member states (China, France, Russian Federation, UK and United States) often employ their veto power to protect their own interests, to paralysing effect.

New Zealand can make it so the very idea the P5 hold a trump card is a joke. By widely vocalising that the P5 cannot use their veto to block actions aimed at preventing or ending human rights abuses, a change in practice will follow. Not convinced? France has already put their hand up to lead the way.

Thirdly, New Zealand can increase accountability for human rights violations. This means ensuring the UNSC consistently refers alleged perpetrators of crimes against humanity to the court Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). New Zealand can explore options for holding the UNSC itself accountable when it fails its own mandate. After all, if the most powerful UN body has no controls, it will inevitably pander to its own interests.

But let’s be frank - to achieve any of the above, we have to take on the world’s most powerful states. Is the New Zealand government prepared to step on some high-powered toes to approach its 2015–2016 seat from an independent and principled perspective?

Come on New Zealand: let’s take on the world!

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