Vienna, 30 December 2010 – Austria’s membership in the UN Security Council is coming to an end at the turn of the year. As an elected member of the Council, Austria has borne responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security for two years. “ Austria’s membership in the UN Security Council has primarily been a service to the world community, constituting an enormous workload and posing a great challenge for the entire Foreign Ministry. At the same time Austria seized the opportunity to introduce its own priorities and thematic initiatives and support the work of the Security Council in a constructive and mediatory manner”, stated Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, summing up Austria’s membership of the Security Council in 2009 and 2010.
“Our commitment has paid off. We have pursued our priorities in a consistent manner and we have demonstrated that non-permanent members can also make a sustainable contribution. Over the past weeks we have received a great deal of praise and recognition. We can review our work in the Security Council with satisfaction”, summarised the Foreign Minister. More than 100 resolutions and nearly 150 presidential statements and press releases were dealt with and prepared in some 600 formal and informal meetings. During the past two years Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger went to New York eight times to participate in Security Council meetings. Today, thanks to intensive preparatory work and good networking, Austria’s influence can be discerned in numerous resolutions and documents of the Security Council.
At the very beginning of its membership Austria faced the Gaza crisis, which required particular intuition and tact. “In the negotiations on the termination of hostilities and the provision of humanitarian aid we were able to contribute to an understanding between the Arab states and the P5 in the Security Council. Subsequently, it became possible to adopt a joint resolution in spite of great difficulties in the beginning”, emphasised Spindelegger. This Austrian commitment continued during the entire membership, for instance during the crises in Sri Lanka, on the Korean peninsula, in Iran, Sudan and the Congo.
One of the highlights of Austria’s membership certainly was the unanimous adoption of Resolution 1894 for the protection of civilians in armed conflict during the Austrian Presidency in November 2009. Resolution 1894 reaffirms the call for all conflicting parties to respect international humanitarian law and human rights. Its is centred around concrete measures for the better protection of civilians through UN peacekeepers, with Austria contributing its own experience as a provider of peacekeeping forces for many years. “In this way we have been able to make a substantial contribution which will influence the work of UN peace missions in the future on a worldwide basis”, stated the Foreign Minister with satisfaction.
Subsequently, Austria was committed to ensuring that the provisions of Resolution 1894 would be integrated in the extension of mandates of UN peace missions. It was possible to include and/or develop the protection of civilians as a core task in a number of UN missions. Heavy assaults on the civilian population – in particular women and children – in the Congo as well as current developments in Ivory Coast make it again clear that the protection of civilians is increasingly becoming a core task of UN missions and a significant element in the public assessment of the success of such missions. “The ever recurring outrageous assaults in conflict regions demonstrate that there is need for action. We will not tire in our efforts to improve the protection of civilians after the end of our membership of the Security Council”, stated the Foreign Minister.
That all people have the same access to law and justice and that they can rely on the application of laws is unfortunately not universally valid. We have therefore made the rule of law and the furtherance of international law a clear priority of our membership”, stated Spindelegger. This guiding theme was pursued consistently at all levels: Acting as Chairman of the Al-Quaida and Taliban Sanctions Committee, Austria achieved acceptance of an initiative for more objectivity and transparency of the UN terrorist lists. This list, which comprises some 500 persons and organisations alleged to be connected with Al-Quaida or the Taliban and therefore subject to sanctions, constitutes a key tool of the UN in fighting terrorism. The function of ombudsman was created at an Austrian initiative. Persons who are on this UN list of terrorists may - for the first time - raise a complaint before an independent body and ask for an independent examination. “In June 2010 the Canadian judge Kimberly Prost was the first to be appointed ombudswoman for the terrorist list. With this Resolution, we have succeeded in closing a gap in international legal protection and in strengthening human rights in this sensitive area”, stated Spindelegger.
The working group for international criminal tribunals, which was also chaired by Austria, scored an important success in the fight against impunity. Resolution 1966, which was elaborated by Austria, enables the UN criminal tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda to continue their work, thus making sure that war criminals can be tracked down and brought to trial in the future.
Another special concern of Austria was to take practical measures for protecting women in conflict situations and for strengthening their role in peace processes. “Women represent 50% of our society. Peace, security and progress are not possible in the long run if one half of society is ignored. Everywhere in the world, women must be able to decide on their lives on their own, free from violence and repression, and participate in political decisions”, emphasised the Foreign Minister. Austria also supported the demand to prevent violence against women more effectively, and ensure that the offenders are subjected to just punishment. The appointment of Margot Wallström as Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict by the UN Secretary-General will ensure that more attention will be devoted to this topic in the future.
“It was also my declared goal to make use of the membership in the Security Council in order to strengthen Austria’s role as a hub for international dialogue and as a UN seat. If we look back and take stock of the past two years, we have succeeded in a number of things”, emphasised Spindelegger. The fact that the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) and a think-tank for security policy, the Vienna Centre for Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, are now located in Vienna proves that Vienna’s role as a competence centre for disarmament and nuclear security has been further strengthened. The UN retreat in Alpbach, which has become a regular annual event in the UN calendar, contributes to Austria’s international role in the same way as the opening of the International Anti-Corruption Academy in Laxenburg and of the liaison offices of the International Organization for Migration and the International Peace Institute.
Within the Security Council, Austria has seen its role as a connecting link to the European Union and has always been in close contact with Brussels and the High Representative Catherine Ashton. Austria has also been consistently committed to strengthening the role of the European Union within the framework of the United Nations – a topic that requires further effort in convincing the United Nations of its usefulness. Catherine Ashton’s first participation in a Security Council meeting last May was, for instance, due to an Austrian initiative.
Following the end of Austria’s membership of the Security Council, work within the United Nations will continue to remain a pillar of its foreign policy. “The end of Austria’s membership in the Security Council does not mean that our work has come to an end. We will continue to take advantage of the expertise we have gained and the networks we have developed over the past two years, such as in Sudan and the Middle East. We will also consistently continue our work devoted to the protection of civilians in conflict situations, and we will use our intended membership of the UN Human Rights Council for this purpose”, concluded the Foreign Minister.
Federal Ministry for
European and International Affairs
Tel.: ++43 (0) 50 1150-3262, 4549, 4550, 3739
Fax: ++43 (0) 50 1159-213