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Can Australia make a lasting impact on the United Nations Security Council?

By Steph Cousins, Humanitarian Advocacy Lead

Too often the UN Security Council fails to protect civilians caught up in conflict because of geopolitical divisions and neglect. The new Oxfam report, ‘On the home stretch,’ demonstrates why Australia needs to use the  remainder of its Security Council term to push the Council to shift words into action. 

Australia kicked off it’s role on the UN Security Council in January 2013 without a great deal of fanfare. There was quite a bit of scepticism about the government’s decision to campaign for the seat, but Oxfam thought it was the right thing to do.

Make no mistake, the UN Security Council is a deeply flawed institution. The 15 member body is responsible for maintaining international peace and security – but with 1.5 billion people living in fragile and conflict-affected countries around the world, we have to question its effectiveness.

Australia has the capacity to make a difference and push for much needed reforms. So when Australia won the bid for a two-year term on the Council, Oxfam published the report, ‘Off the bench,’ recommending all the things Australia could do with its new found power.

With just eight months to go before the Security Council term is up, we thought it would be a good time to check in and see what kind of impact Australia is having. We’ll start with the good news…

The top three great things Australia has done on the Security Council so far:

  1. Last September Australia successfully negotiated a landmark resolution on small arms and light weapons, which are responsible for the deaths of 1,500 people around the world each day. Oxfam welcomed the resolution, saying that combined with the newly agreed Arms Trade Treaty it could signal the beginning of a new era of international cooperation around arms control.
  2. Australia was instrumental in securing a Security Council agreement aiming to open up humanitarian aid access in Syria – where conflict has raged for over three years and millions of people are cut off from aid. Oxfam called the resolution a ‘diplomatic breakthrough’ but more work is needed to ensure it is implemented.
  3. Australia negotiated a resolution on Afghanistan in March which will help promote human rights, particularly of women. The resolution mandates the UN to increase its support for the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission as well as support to the Afghan Government to increase the role of women in its security forces.

These are significant achievements that all Australians can be proud of, but there is room for much improvement.

The bitter sweet reality is that despite all these achievements in New York, the situation on the ground in countries affected by conflict has gone from bad to worse in the last year. There has been a shocking escalation of violence in Syria as well as South Sudan, Darfur in Sudan and Central African Republic.

And as international forces prepare to finalise their withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of the year, insecurity is continuing to spread across the country with a devastating impact on civilians, especially women.

It’s time now, as we approach the home stretch, for Australia to advance the rights and safety of all civilians through it’s place on the UN Security Council.

Want to know more?

Read our 10 things you need to know about Australia and the UN Security Council