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Australia is firmly committed to being a responsive Security Council member on issues related to the African agenda, saya Graeme Wilson.
In October last year, Australia was elected to a two-year term on the UN Security Council with Africa’s overwhelming support. We assumed our membership as South Africa concluded its most recent term.
During our campaign, we committed to effectively represent the interests of our region including on preventing the proliferation of arms and weapons of mass destruction and countering the threat of terrorism.
Australia also firmly committed to being a responsive council member on issues related to the African agenda, which represent about 70 percent of the council’s work.
And a number of Australia’s security interests are engaged in the continent, including counter-terrorism and transnational threats such as piracy and arms trafficking.
One of the highlights so far of our term has been serving as rotating council president last month.
During that month, the council dealt with many challenging issues, including African conflicts and regional peacekeeping missions that form a large part of the council’s ongoing agenda.
The Syrian conflict dominated the council’s work last month.
Australia actively supported the US-Russian efforts to address the horrific August 21 chemical weapons attack in Damascus, which culminated in the September 27 UNSC Resolution 2118 on verification and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.
The council had a busy agenda last month: renewing the mandate of the peacekeeping mission in Liberia; and discussing a range of issues such as implementation of Libya sanctions, progress in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau, the transition in Yemen, negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan, and progress of the UN in Somalia.
Amid this flurry of high-profile activity, and as a centrepiece of our presidency, Australia convened on September 26 a high-level meeting on the impact of the illicit trade and misuse of small arms and light weapons on international peace and security.
This followed the adoption in April by the UN General Assembly of the Arms Trade Treaty, in which Australia played a strong leadership role, and the release of the UN Secretary-General’s report on small arms.
This was the first time in more than five years that the council had considered the issue of small arms in a dedicated way – the last time being a debate convened by South Africa during its own council presidency in April 2008.
Australia also managed to secure an historic council resolution on small arms and light weapons from the meeting.
This was an excellent outcome on an issue of great importance, including to Africa, where small arms are a massive problem.
Indeed, the illicit trade and misuse of small arms intensifies and perpetuates conflict and instability around the world. It is integral to threats to international peace and security, such as terrorist acts, piracy and transnational organised crime.
In many cases, it violates council resolutions, sanctions and embargoes. The illicit trade and misuse of small arms also hinders implementation of UN peacekeeping mandates and political missions and threatens the lives of peacekeepers. It undermines peace building efforts and has devastating humanitarian consequences.
The UNSC resolution will strengthen the implementation of arms embargoes; enhance support to governments to secure and manage arms stockpiles, strengthen the role of peacekeeping missions in combating small arms threats, and improve the UN’s overall capacity to tackle these challenges.
More generally, Australia’s objectives for our two-year term on the Security Council align closely with our key national security interests in counter-terrorism and non-proliferation, and in strengthening stability in critical regions such as Afghanistan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Middle East.
Other priorities include promoting Protection of Civilians, identifying practical measures to improve women’s participation in conflict prevention, peacekeeping and peace building, strengthening UNSC relations with regional organisations, and improving the effectiveness of the Sanctions Committees, to support the council’s political objectives.
Australia is also seeking to build on the important work undertaken in the council by South Africa to encourage closer co-operation between the UN and the AU, and particularly between the UN Security Council and the AU Peace and Security Council.
We recognise that Resolution 2033, adopted under South Africa’s presidency in January 2011, lays out a comprehensive framework for the deepening of such co-operation.
We were pleased with the success of the recent meetings between the two councils in Addis Ababa. Australia is also making a practical contribution to the AU’s capacity to engage the UN by funding a senior adviser to the Permanent Observer Mission of the AU to the UN.
The AU plays a vital role across the African peace and security agenda. For example, the efforts of Thabo Mbeki, as head of the AU High-level Implementation Panel on Sudan, have been significant in maintaining the momentum of talks between Sudan and South Sudan to resolve their outstanding issues.
Australia is also giving priority to ensuring non-council members have access to the council’s deliberations, including through concerted outreach in New York, Canberra and capitals.
We have very much appreciated the close engagement we have had with South Africa this year on UNSC issues, including through regular discussions with Dirco (The Department of International Relations and Co-Operation) and high-level senior official visits in both directions.
Australia also shares the view of South Africa, as articulated by President Zuma during his United Nations General Assembly address, that the council needs to be reformed to better reflect the modern world and to ensure greater transparency and accessibility. Australia recognises South Africa’s leadership role on the continent and its strong recent UNSC experience, having served on the council twice in the past six years.
We are grateful for South Africa’s contribution to the new Intervention Brigade of the UN Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Monusco). Monusco has a key role to play in the protection of civilians, including women and children.
Australia looks forward to further strengthening our engagement with South Africa and with the AU and sub-regional organisations such as SADC, as we continue to exercise our responsibilities on the Security Council to the end of 2014.
Australia also looks forward to working closely with South Africa as we prepare to take on additional international responsibilities as chair of the G20 and the Indian Ocean Rim Association.
* Graeme Wilson is Australia’s High Commissioner to South Africa.
** The views expressed here are not necessarly those of Independent Newspapers.