Austria's membership in the U.N. Security Council 2009/2010
by Verena Nowotny
At the end of the two year membership in the United Nations Security Council, it is time to look back and take stock of Austria’s work in this important forum. During her membership Austria defined clear priorities: the rule of law, the protection of civilians, and Vienna as a platform for dialogue.
The adoption of Resolution 1894 on the protection of civilians in armed conflict was clearly the highlight of the Austrian Council presidency in November 2009, and a significant step forward to better protect civilians. Ever since, Austria has worked for the full implementation of this resolution, for instance in mandates of U.N. peacekeeping operations and the training of U.N. peacekeepers.
Austria – a platform for dialogue
“It has been one of our goals during our membership in the Security Council to strengthen Austria’s role as a platform for international dialogue,” Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said. Part of this effort was dedicated to boost the U.N. headquarter in Vienna, which already hosts important organizations such as the Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBTO), and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). These U.N. organizations help to establish Austria as a center of competence for disarmament and nuclear safety.
In September 2010, the International Anti-Corruption Academy was formally established in Laxenburg (Lower Austria). U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at the opening that this new institution could help “to create a culture of integrity.” Two new offices that deal with disarmament were opened in Vienna this year: a liaison office for U.N. Disarmament (UNODA) and a think-tank that will be administrated by the renowned James Martin Center for Non-Proliferation Studies (CNS).
Austria’s close cooperation with the U.N. was reflected in visits by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon both in 2009 and in 2010. This year, for the first time, even the Senior Management Retreat of the U.N. took place in Alpbach (Tyrol). During this retreat, the Secretary-General together with all high-ranking U.N. officials discussed the agenda and strategies for the year to come. “It was not only an honor for us to host this top management meeting of the United Nations, but also an expression of appreciation for our close partnership with the U.N.,” Spindelegger pointed out.
Furthermore, Austria offered or renewed its offer to mediate reconciliation talks and to host talks to various conflict parties around the world. In this context, Foreign Minister Spindelegger had various talks with representatives from the Middle East or with government representatives of the Sudan. “I am convinced that only an honest and open dialogue helps to overcome a conflict,” the minister pointed out. “Our door is and remains open.”
Strengthening the “rule of law”
Another main focus of Austria’s work in the Security Council was the so-called “rule of law.” The basic idea is that all people should have access to law and justice, and that jurisdiction has to be reliable and independent. These basic concepts are often not self-evident, especially in countries or regions that have suffered from conflicts. Already in 2004, Austria initiated a sequence of seminars together with New York University to discuss the role of the Security Council to improve the worldwide adherence to the rule of law.
The thorough preparation paid off: numerous Security Council resolutions and documents contain “Austrian footprints” that refer to the rule of law, human rights and international human rights law, in particular concerning civilians in armed conflict. “No matter whether we were dealing with conflicts in Gaza or Sri Lanka, with piracy on the coast of Somalia or with the fight against terrorists, Austria has always adhered to its guiding principles,” said Foreign Minister Spindelegger. “Our consistent effort to improve the rule of law and the protection of civilians is widely approved.”
Austria’s commitment to strengthen the rule of law also includes the fight against impunity. As chair of the Security Council Working Group for International Tribunals in former Yugoslavia and Ruanda, Austria has prepared seven resolutions that deal with the work of these tribunals. Furthermore, Austria chaired negotiations to develop a mechanism that ensures that even after the tribunals are shut down, war criminals like Ratko Mladic will be held accountable.
The fight against impunity is particularly important when it comes to modern warfare and crimes against women. In various conflicts, mainly in Africa, rape is used as a weapon, thus destroying not only the lives of the victims but also the social cohesion of families and villages. As member of the Security Council, Austria has worked hard to better protect women and girls and to make sure that perpetrators are brought to justice.
The U.N. terrorist list
Since the beginning of Austria’s membership in the Security Council, Austrian U.N.-Ambassador Thomas Mayr-Harting was also entrusted to chair the Al-Quaeda/Taliban sanctions committee. This committee, a subsidiary body of the Security Council, manages a list of approximately 500 names and entities that are affiliated with Al-Quaeda or the Taliban. The Security Council has imposed sanctions on all the people on the list, including travel bans, weapon embargos and asset freezes. This U.N. terror list thus represents a main tool to prevent terrorists’ activities and assaults.
However, since its establishment the U.N. terror list has suffered from shortcomings concerning human rights and the legal protection of those affected by the sanctions. Together with the USA and other members of the Security Council, Austria worked hard to improve the working procedures of the Al-Quaeda/Taliban committee and thus to meet concerns expressed, among others, by European courts. These efforts led to Security Council resolution 1904 that was adopted unanimously in December 2009.
One of the big innovations introduced with Resolution 1904 is the new office of an Ombudsperson. Until then a person listed by the Al-Quaeda/Taliban committee had no opportunity to demand an independent examination of his case. A person who believes that being listed is unjustified can now turn to the new Ombudsperson. “The appointment of the Canadian Judge Kimberly Prost as Ombudsperson for the AlQuaida/Taliban committee represents the actual implementation of an Austrian initiative”, Foreign Minister Spindelegger said in welcoming the decision of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to appoint Judge Prost. Spindelegger stressed that also the fight against terrorism must be based on the rule of law and the respect for human right laws.
Verena Nowotny is the spokesperson of the Austrian Mission to the United Nations in New York.