Austria as a non-permanent Member of the UN Security Council for the term 2009-2010

Michael Spindelegger with Ban Ki-moon

In 2009 and 2010, Austria served as a non-permanent member of the Security Council for the third time since joining the United Nations in 1955. During this period, Austria thus shared responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. During her two-year term, Austria participated in 403 formal meetings of the Council and in 212 informal consultations; she contributed to the adoption of 106 resolutions, 65 presidential statements and 88 press statements.

During her campaign for a non-permanent seat on the Council, Austria had already defined a number of priorities and guiding principles for her membership, such as the protection of civilians, the strengthening of the rule of law, international law and human rights and the promotion of a culture of transparency and dialogue.

As a member of the Council, Austria was confronted with core challenges of international crisis management from the first days of her membership. The beginning of 2009 was dominated by the conflict in Gaza. On the 6th day of Austria’s membership, the Austrian Foreign Minister, Michael Spindelegger, participated in an emergency meeting of the Council that led to the adoption of resolution 1860, which called inter alia for an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, as well as for the unimpeded provision and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance. For Austria, this was also the first practical occasion to underline her commitment to one of the core priorities of her Security Council membership: the obligation on all parties to a conflict to fully respect international humanitarian law.
A few months later, the plight of hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped between the army of Sri Lanka and the LTTE terror organisation provided Austria with a further occasion to draw the attention of the Council to that core priority and the need to protect civilians in armed conflict.

Austria also chose the protection of civilians as the key thematic topic of her Council presidency in November 2009. In a meeting chaired by Foreign Minister Spindelegger on 11 November 2009, the Security Council adopted resolution 1894. It is one of the main goals of this resolution to ensure that the United Nations can make an effective contribution to the protection of civilians in the framework of its own peacekeeping missions. Resolution 1894, therefore, obliges all such missions to develop comprehensive protection strategies as part of their overall implementation plans. (Protection issues remained a priority for Austria after her Council presidency: They were of particular relevance in the Council’s deliberations on the UN missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), in Chad, in the Sudan and in Côte d’Ivoire.)

Other subjects that were on the agenda of the Security Council during the Austrian presidency in November 2009 included Iraq, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Somalia, the DRC, the Sudan and the Middle East. The Austrian Presidency of the Security Council was also confronted with a conflict between Venezuela and Colombia and provided both sides with her good offices to contribute to its de-escalation.

Observers believe that more than seventy percent of the work on the Council is related to African issues. This was undoubtedly the case during the two years of Austria’s membership. During this time, the Council had to deal with conflicts and crisis management in the Great Lakes Region, in Western Africa, in the Sudan and in the Horn of Africa. The work of the Council was characterised by a growing cooperation between the Council, the African Union and sub-regional organizations such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Austria was able to participate in three Security Council missions to Africa, including visits to the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa, to Ethiopia, Rwanda, the DRC, Liberia, Uganda and the Sudan.

Austria consistently stressed the importance of ‘African ownership’ in efforts to resolve issues pertaining to the African continent. In addition to a focus on protection of civilians, Austria supported the efforts of the UN – in particular the Vienna-based UN Office on Drugs and Crime – in the fight against drug trafficking and organised crime. During her term on the Council, Austria joined the country-specific configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission for Sierra Leone. As regards Sudanese North-South relations, Austria has expressed her willingness to continue to support the parties in resolving post-referendum issues, especially by providing expertise in citizenship questions. In November 2010, Austria hosted an informal meeting of leading representatives from the North and the South in Vienna and Baden (Lower Austria).

A further African topic to attract Austria’s attention during her Council membership was Western Sahara and the MINURSO mandate. Austria actively supports all UN efforts towards a just, lasting and mutually acceptable solution, which will provide for self-determination in accordance with international law. In its negotiations on the prolongation of the MINURSO mandate in April 2009, the Security Council, for the first time, inserted a reference to the ‘human dimension’ of the conflict, an aspect that is also of particular concern to Austria. Upon the invitation of the Austrian Government, representatives of Morocco, the Polisario, Algeria and Mauretania held an informal meeting in August 2009 in Dürnstein (Lower Austria) under the chairmanship of the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General, Christopher Ross.

Austria is strongly committed to all international efforts in favour of nuclear non-proliferation. For this reason, Austria actively supported the decisions taken by the Security Council in reaction to the nuclear programmes of Iran and the DPRK. On 24 September 2009, Austria was represented by Federal President Heinz Fischer and Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger at the historical Security Council Summit chaired by President Barack Obama, during which the Council, for the first time, committed to the goal of a nuclear-free world.

As a longstanding troop contributor (since 1960 some 80,000 Austrians have participated in UN-mandated peace missions), Austria showed a particular interest in efforts to reform UN peacekeeping operations. At a time when the UN is confronted with evermore complex mandates, Austria saw great merit in the reflection process launched by the UK and France, as well as the UN Secretariat, in its ‘New Horizon’ paper. Austria supports all efforts to improve the flow of information between individual missions and the headquarters in New York, as well as an increased dialogue between the Council and Troop Contributing Countries.

During her two year term on the Council, Austria also endeavoured to make a systematic contribution to the protection of children in armed conflict and the ‘Women, Peace and Security’ agenda. These are areas where the Council was able to make substantial progress in 2009 and 2010. Austria actively contributed to the negotiations on resolution 1882 (‘Children in Armed Conflict’) and resolutions 1888, 1889 and 1960 (‘Women, Peace and Security’). Austria was also very actively involved in the preparations for the 10th anniversary of the adoption of resolution 1325. In a meeting on 26 October 2010, in which Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger participated, the Security Council adopted a presidential statement that expresses support for the utilisation of 26 core indicators, elaborated by the Secretary-General, that will help to measure progress in the implementation of resolution 1325. On the basis of these indicators, it will now be possible to collect, for example, systematic data on sexual violence against women, as well as on the level of participation of women in UN field missions and in political life, in all contexts relevant for the implementation of resolution 1325.

During her membership of the Security Council, Austria chaired three of its subsidiary bodies: the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1267 (1999) concerning Al-Qaida and the Taliban (and associated individuals and entities), the Informal Working Group on International Tribunals and the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1591 (2005) concerning the Sudan.

As Chair of the 1267 Al-Qaida/Taliban Sanctions Committee, Austria conducted the first review ever of all the names on the Consolidated List. This review lasted 18 months, involved a review of 488 list entries and resulted in the delisting of 46 names, as well as the updating of hundreds of list entries. Resolution 1904 (2009), adopted by the Security Council on 17 December 2009, substantially improved the procedures under the Al-Qaida and Taliban sanctions regime in terms of due process. The establishment of the office of an Ombudsperson represents the most significant innovation. For the first time ever, individuals and entities subject to sanctions measures will have the opportunity to present their cases to an independent and impartial body that will assist the Committee when considering delisting requests. In June 2010, the Secretary-General of the UN appointed Canadian Judge Kimberly Prost as the first Ombudsperson.

This is fully consistent with Austria’s longstanding emphasis on the need to strengthen the rule of law in the various fields of activity of the Security Council. Austria started a reflection process on this topic, in cooperation with the New York University School of Law, as early as September 2004. This was followed by a four year series of panel discussions. The final report of the Austrian initiative on “The UN Security Council and the Rule of Law”, published in 2008, contains 17 specific recommendations, including on improving the Security Council’s sanctions regimes. (See the final report: The UN Security Council and the Rule of Law)

As chair of the Security Council Working Group for International Tribunals, Austria prepared nine resolutions that dealt with the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (cf. resolutions 1877, 1878, 1900, 1901, 1915, 1931, 1932, 1954 and 1955). Furthermore, during her two-year term, Austria also led what were probably the longest negotiations on a single resolution in the history of the Council: On 22 December 2010 the Council adopted resolution 1966 on the establishment of a residual mechanism to ensure that the legacy of the two aforementioned tribunals will be preserved. By establishing this mechanism which will continue all essential residual functions of the Tribunals, including trial of fugitives, management of archives, protection of witnesses and supervision of enforcement of sentences the Council sent a strong message against impunity: Ratko Mladi?, Félicien Kabuga and the other high-level fugitives indicted by the ICTY and the ICTR will have to face international justice whenever they are apprehended.

Full text versions of the more than 130 statements that Austria made during 2009 and 2010 as a member of the Security Council can be found on this homepage. Ambassador Thomas Mayr-Harting closed his last public statement in the Council on 22 December 2010 with the following words: “My country has always believed that serving on the Council is primarily a service that an elected member offers to the world organisation and to its membership. As we now return to the ranks — to our natural habitat as a permanent member of the General Assembly — we will continue to serve the United Nations family as best we can, based on the very same principles that have guided us during these two years.”