Security Council Discusses Two Key Security Issues: Rule of Law and Middle East

25 Jan

Over the past week, the Security Council has engaged in two separate debates on thematic issues of critical importance to the broader human security agenda– the rule of law and transitional justice in conflict and post-conflict societies and the situation in the Middle East including the Palestinian question. One key highlight was the warning by the UK delegate on illegal arms smuggling into Syria that continues to feed the violence.

Our intern Helene Samson provides detailed reports on the meetings. Please see below.

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On 19 January 2012, the Security Council met to discuss the UN’s approach to transitional justice and the rule of law, a norm which is acknowledged by the UN Charter as a precondition to national and international peace and security, and remains a vital element for ensuring prosperity, sustainable development and reducing poverty in states. Although the UN intervention in war-torn states countries has helped in transitional justice, both the UN and national capacities still need to be strengthened given the growing corruption, lack of transparency, and accountability. The Council also reaffirmed its opposition to impunity for violations of international law and highlighted the responsibility of states to prosecute people responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the meeting by supporting the role of rule of law in monitoring armed conflicts, and the growing threat of transnational trafficking, and organized crimes. He further stressed also the necessity to reinforce the rule of law to protect civilians and vulnerable groups, such as women and children. He discussed reinforcing norms through transitional justice; building justice and security institutions to promote trust; and achieving justice for women and gender equality.

The delegations present expressed their respective commitments to rule of law. Rule of law was particularly influential in enhancing the capacity of civil society in the Arab Spring, evidenced in cases such as Liberia and Sierra Leone. India and Portugal both highlighted the need to eliminate state discriminatory laws that interfere with gender equality, equal rights and the full political participation of women. Indeed, children and women continue to represent one of the most vulnerable groups in armed conflicts. France suggested that ICC judicial decisions should be pursued steadily and consistently by states, when states are not willing to enforce criminal justice within their own domestic legal systems. Next, the UK voiced concerns that some member states have not recognized the Court’s competence, and pointed out that the ICC should have a more compulsory competence in terms of international criminal justice. Furthermore, the UK explained that security goes along with health and education regarding peace building long-term processes; the British delegation declared they were ready to invest 30 percent of its growing development aid to help 12 million women have better access to justice through police, courts and legal assistance.

Although they have not signed the Rome Statute, the United States also expressed its moral commitment to the international norms of transnational justice and rule of law by mentioning their honoring institutionalized initiatives for armed conflict prevention: Obama’s Executive Order on promoting women participation in peace process and rule of law enforcement, and also a study on high-level atrocity prevention. Moreover, as for China, it did not mention any initiatives to promote transitional justice and security, but emphasized its reluctance regarding the systematic and intrusive application of sanctions in some unique national situations, arguing that national sovereignty is still the highest legitimate authority. States tending to reinforce the rule of law through issuing laws of post-conflict reintegration and integral reparation, such as Colombia or adopting a more democratic constitution like in Morocco, warned also the UN approach criticized earlier by China. It was suggested the UN should cooperate with states to complete national measures and consolidate the rule of law in the different realities. Guatemala, whose post-conflict institutions are still weak and have seen transnational criminality worsen, highlighted the lack of national appropriation that sometimes follows failed post-war peace building. Guatemala has nevertheless explained that a successful reconciliation consists of a balance between the duty of remembrance and the responsibility of reconciliation.

In sum, the Security Council expressed its concerns regarding displaced groups, children, and particularly women who also play also a critical role in peace building. The adoption of measures, such as Resolution 1325, has been encouraging. It has been argued that Specific international tribunals, in particular the ICC, remain a vital element in the architecture of the international and healing justice. There is a need to coordinate international jurisdiction needs to ensure the reinforcement of the rule of law. However, the Security Council is aware that in an ideal world, national States should preserve jurisdictions should do justice themselves, without any intervention from an international organization. Meanwhile, the Security Council will have to address these challenges to promote rule of law in cooperation with national politics and help states to build peace and security. The Security Council expects an international push and political changes in war-torn societies.

This Security Council’s meeting was part of a high-level meeting on justice and rule of law that will be discussed by world leaders at the General Assembly on 24 September 2012. For the time being, the Council sought to emphasize the major role that rule of law plays in the peace and security field, as a call for political leaders to implement reform measures.

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The Security Council met on 24 January 2012 to discuss the situation in the Middle East, focusing at length on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, welcomed the series of talks on territory and security between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators initiated 3 January 2012. He reported growing violence and illegal measures on the ground by Israel. Indeed, the aggressive Israeli settlement activities and the constant exchanged violence between Israeli settlers and Palestinians present a major obstacle to a two-State solution.

As for Lebanon, several incidents in the zone of operation of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) showed the fragile conditions of security. The continued Israeli violation of the Lebanese aerospace not only undermines the credibility of UNIFIL, but also breaks with Resolution 1701. Moreover, 5,660 Syrian refugees have been registered on 13 January 2012 in Lebanon. He thus encouraged the Security Council to support the League of the Arab States’ proposal to tackle the violence and human rights violation perpetuated by the Syrian government.

Following Fernandez-Taranco’s introductory comments, Permanent Observer of Palestine spoke out about the Israeli practices on the ground in violation of international legal norms. He mentioned that Israeli settlement activities increased by 20 percent in 2011 further ‘Judaizing’ East Jerusalem with more checking points, demolitions of Palestinian proprieties, the closure of Palestinian institutions and the ‘ghettoization’ of the Palestinians, among others. He went further in accusing Israeli settlers of ethnic cleansing, in particular in the Jordan Valley, through the destruction of farms and displacement of population, and also acts of vandalism in churches and mosques, all in the full view of the Israeli security force. The Israeli air and land blockade affects deeply the Palestinians since it obstructs the necessary civil construction and humanitarian aids.

The Israeli delegation affirmed that the single greatest threat to the world security was an Iran seeking to build a nuclear weapon. The Israeli representative blamed the Security Council for having spent too much time and energy on the Israeli settlement activities instead of focusing on the real challenges that face the Middle East and the entire world. With its plan of enriching uranium to a 20 percent level, Iran breaks also several Security Council Resolutions, a reason why “the Security Council should be losing sleep over it,” replied the Israeli delegate. Adding to the Iranian threat, Israel also accused Palestinian authorities of keeping silent on the Hamas’ incitement to hatred and the destruction of Israel. Israel concluded Palestine’s misleading insistence on the two-State solution justifies Gazans’ security as the Israeli main priority.

The US encouraged both parties to set an environment conducive to progress and condemned any incitement to violence and terrorist attacks against Israel. However, the US delegation reaffirmed that it did not support the legitimacy of settlement activities. Regarding Syria, the US delegate noted that there are urgent needs for sanctions against the Syrian government actions and affirmed support for the Arab League’s plan for a transition to democracy.

With 43 percent of the West Bank clearly not under the control of the Palestinians and corresponding increasing violence, India declared the Israeli settlement unacceptable and contrary to international law. Restrictions to humanitarian assistance have resulted in an increase in poverty levels, something hardly compatible with a two-State solution. Togo, concerned for Palestinian refugee rights, called also for leaving the blockade. Good faith negotiations from both parties, financial and material support from the international community, and the Quartet’s role as guarantor of any agreements reached, were all encouraged as a set of practices to overcome current difficulties.

Colombia reiterated the negative impact of settlement activities in the region, but also noted violence against Israelis and threats to Israeli security calling for defined borders acknowledged by the international community. The Moroccan delegation explained also that Israel’s lack of political and moral will on the ground represented great challenges to peace. They suggested that Israel fulfill its responsibilities and obligations, in particular in Jerusalem and its suburbs where settlement activities have increased.

Pakistan criticized the endless debates on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the Security Council and the Quartet’s frozen position in a state of “suspended promises” that have not helped Palestinians address the issue. The Russian Federation noted a ‘remote manipulation’ from some states, without explicitly mentioning names, to maintain a certain ethnic group to power constitutes a major obstacle to human rights and the peace process.

The United Kingdom broadened the scope of the debate calling for democracy in the Arab world and the Security Council’s support for the League of Arab States in the transition to democracy in Syria. The UK warned of the illegal smuggling of arms to Syria, which continues to feed the shedding of blood. While Germany suggested expanding product exports to the West Bank to ensure the creation of jobs and prosperity, France urged establishing an international follow-up mechanism that is likely to lead to a two-State solution.

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