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POLITICS: Africa Reasserts Veto Demand in New Security Council

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 20 2006 (IPS) - Despite rumours to the contrary, the 53-member African Union (AU) has refused to drop its demand for veto powers for two permanent seats it is claiming in an expanded U.N. Security Council.

The unrelenting demand for veto powers by African nations is one of the political stumbling blocks facing the other four aspirants (Group of 4) for permanent membership: Japan, Germany, India and Brazil.

Speaking on behalf of the African Group, Ambassador Youcef Yousfi of Algeria told delegates Thursday that the AU still holds onto its demand for “no less than two permanent seats with all the prerogatives and privileges of permanent membership, including the right of veto.”

At a closed door meeting Tuesday of countries supportive of the Group of 4, an Asian ambassador told delegates there are signs that Africa may come round to the G4 view that “the veto power is realistically not possible” – considering the fact that such a demand is being strongly opposed by the current permanent members with veto powers.

Speaking on behalf of the G4, he said the AU has been “showing flexibility” and a committee of 10 members of the AU has come to the conclusion that under the current political climate “no new permanent members will get the veto power.”

But in his statement before the General Assembly Thursday, Ambassador Yousfi re-asserted Africa’s right to veto powers.

“Africa is determined to redress the historical injustice,” he said, pointing out that “Africa is the only continent lacking a representation in the permanent member category of the Security Council, and therefore wants to ensure its legitimate right to be fully represented in all decision-making organs of the United Nations, in particular the Security Council.”

“The selection of Africa’s representatives in the Security Council, as well as the question of the criteria for the selection should be the responsibility of the African Union,” he declared.

The current 15 members of the Council include five permanent members and 10 non-permanent members. Since the permanent members holding veto powers – the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia – have already rejected a proposal for veto powers for new permanent members, the G-4 decided to abandon their demand for vetoes.

Without Africans on board – who can muster 53 votes in a General Assembly of 192 member states – the G-4 has been unwilling to go before the U.N.’s highest policy making body for a decision, fearing it may fail to get the requisite two-thirds majority.

The two African front runners for permanent seats are South Africa and Nigeria, followed by Egypt. Other possible contenders include Kenya and Senegal, a Francophone country.

Bill Fletcher, Jr., a former president of TransAfrica Forum and a visiting professor at Brooklyn College-City University of New York, says that part of the necessity for U.N. reform is that new members to the Security Council must have a veto.

“The United Nations was originally constructed, in the aftermath of World War II, to ensure the hegemony of the key Allied nations. That paradigm was wrong from the beginning but it is even more problematic in the 21st century,” he told IPS.

“The AU’s stand is not only a stand for Africa, but is a stand in favour of respect for the global South,” Fletcher added.

Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz of Egypt, whose country is a member of the AU, told the General Assembly that Africa had a legitimate right to be adequately represented in an expanded Council, on the basis of the African common position as recently reaffirmed in the AU summit meeting in Gambia.

“Any proposal that falls short of providing Africa with the number and category of seats pursued by the continent will not succeed,” he warned.

The African demand also includes five non-permanent seats in an expanded Security Council.

Last year, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan released a landmark 62-page report, “In Larger Freedom”, described as a blueprint for restructuring the world body.

The report backed a proposal made by a high-level panel on U.N. reform, which called for two alternative models for an expanded Security Council:

Model A provides for six new permanent seats, none with veto powers, and three new two-year term non-permanent seats, divided among Africa, Asia and Pacific, Europe and the Americas.

Model B provides for no new permanent seats but creates a new category of eight four-year renewable-term seats and one new two-year non-permanent (and non-renewable) seat, divided among the four regional groups.

The Group of 4 has been supporting Model A with hopes of finding permanent seats on the Council table. The United Nations has been discussing the expansion of the Security Council for nearly 15 years now. The prospects for success still remain bleak.

Japan, which is making a strong push for an expanded Security Council, is still hoping that the AU will be more “realistic” on the issue of the veto.

Ambassador Kenzo Oshima of Japan told the General Assembly: “Although nothing new seems to have come out of the (AU) summit meeting in Banjul, Gambia, we note that African states remain seized on the matter at the level of heads of state.”

“We hope the time will soon come when all member states on all sides, African states as well as other states with important stakes in this issue, will begin to move actively and positively, with open-mindedness, flexibility and realism, in search of a solution that can enjoy broad support of the membership.”

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