Foreign Policy Blogs

Can the U.N. Security Council Reform?

Can the U.N. Security Council Reform?

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon with Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Conogolese President Joseph Kabila. Photo: Reuters/Keith Bedford.

As the rebellion in Syria languishes on with little attention from the international community, a confidential report authored by the U.N. Security Council’s Group of Experts was leaked to Reuters. This is not the first time such a “leak” has occurred, which implicates the credibility of the Group of Experts or the U.N. itself. The report allegedly confirms that the M23 rebels operating in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are under not only the material and financial support of the Ugandan and Rwandan governments, but under the direct military command of Rwanda’s Ministry of Defence. The leaked version is not a final draft and is devoid of any responsive statements from the implicated governments. The leak of the Group of Experts report has led to debate over the objectivity and capabilities of the U.N. Security Council, as well as what the proper responses in the U.N. and African Great Lakes region should be.

The conflict in the DRC is an ongoing offshoot of the genocide and civil war that ravaged Rwanda in the 1990s. Members of the former Rwandan Hutu regime, many of whom are alleged to be war criminals that participated in the Rwandan conflict and fled across the DRC’s porous borders. M23, the most recent rebel group to emerge in eastern DRC, is connected to the most senior officials in the Rwandan Military in the U.N. report.

The U.N. Security Council first exercised its Chapter VII powers in Resolution 1484 of May 30, 2003 and authorized the deployment of the Interim Emergency Multinational Force. This operation was narrowly constrained in its geographic and temporal scope and was largely a success in its ability to stabilize the regional humanitarian crisis it addressed. The Second Congo War was declared to be over on July 18, 2003 when the U.N. and multinational efforts allowed a transitional government to take root. The DRC remains unstable to this day, especially in the eastern regions of Kivu, Ituri, and Katanga where natural resources are rich and the aftereffects of Rwandan and Ugandan military involvement persist.

The Security Council’s second set of actions under Chapter VII came in Resolution 1493 of July 28, 2003 which prohibited any state from providing “military or financial assistance to the movements or armed groups present in the [DRC]” The arms embargo was last extended through Resolution 2021 of November 29, 2011 and is set to expire on November 30, 2012.

Though still in place, these bans of weapons sales have been ignored in large scale both directly and indirectly. Munitions from countries such as the U.S., China, Russia, and Greece were being used in the DRC in violation of the Security Council’s embargo as early as 2006. In 2012, the influx of arms into sub-Saharan Africa currently is described as a “flood” and the unsuccessful attempts at controlling the arms trade are often attributed to the international community’s failure to promulgate a comprehensive arms control treaty.

If arms are not sold directly to military factions in the DRC, they are sold to neighboring Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Angola who have effectively used them to conduct combat operations in the DRC or to facilitate the appropriation of the DRC’s natural resources under the guise of humanitarian intervention. The recent leak of the Security Council’s Group of Experts has prompted the DRC to demand sanctions for the involvement of Uganda and Rwanda in fueling the conflict. Aid donors to Rwanda such as the U.S. and U.K. are also being called upon to use their leverage in Kigali to uncover and defuse the situation.

Beginning with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1258 of August 6, 1999 (authorizing the deployment of U.N. military observers to the DRC) and Resolution 1279 of November 30, 1999 (establishing the U.N. Mission in the DRC), the Security Council has remained seized of the matter and passed forty-three subsequent resolutions concerning the DRC. A peacekeeping force has operated in the DRC continually since 1999, at one time being the largest active U.N. peacekeeping operation. Most recently, Resolution 2053 of June 27, 2012 extended the mandate of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in the DRC until June 30, 2013.

Modern warfare does not occur only when a contingent of a state’s military operates in the territory of another state without its consent and under their foreign flag. Government-led cyber-attacks on other governments, the waging of economic warfare, and terrorist operations all challenge the historically rigid, Westphalian conception of sovereignty and territorial integrity. Emerging international legal obligations such as the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), where the duty of the international community to intervene using “diplomatic, humanitarian, or other means” is triggered when a state fails to fulfill its duty to protect its populations from violations of jus cogens norms.

If the U.N. Security Council confirms the findings of this report, a proportional, responsive action should be forthcoming. The form this action should take will require greater scrutiny and consideration by the Security Council. It could occur on the ground in Eastern Africa or within the U.N. Inaction may show how lightly such breaches of policy and procedure by objective and independent persons or bodies are treated within the U.N. If action is taken, the U.N. may finally end the controversial Group of Experts leadership of Steven Hege.

Rwanda was elected to a non-permanent seat on the Security Council without opposition last Thursday, an event that may indicate that the influence of the unfinalized report did not affect voting. The response of the DRC was full of regret and mortification though it remained cautiously optimistic regarding the prospect that Rwanda could potentially not take the Security Council seat. The final Group of Experts’ report is due before Rwanda actually takes it seat in 2013, but it is an extremely difficult and cumbersome task to actually remove or revoke a Security Council seat without suspension from the U.N. itself. Such action is without precedent and would be inadvisable under any circumstance despite the longstanding debate over the reformation of Security Council membership and procedure. Rwanda’s last occupation of the non-permanent Security Council seat was during the height of the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and a full two-year term was served. As the conflicts in the Great Lakes region of Africa have largely remained the same for the past two decades, we are yet to see if the Security Council has developed a stronger, more unified stance on resolving that situation or its own internal strife both procedurally and substantively.




Marc Gorrie

Marc C. Gorrie holds a BA from Sarah Lawrence College, a JD from Indiana University Maurer School of Law – Bloomington, and an LLM in international human rights law with a specialization in international labor rights law from Lund University (Sweden). He is a port welfare worker and ship visitor for the Seamen's Church Institute in Ports Newark and Elizabeth, NJ, where he also collaborates on an educational program on the Maritime Labour Convention directed at port chaplains and welfare workers. He recently contributed to an EU project on legal education and law school curricula in the Gambia, and has held a research fellowship in legal ethics, lectured on federal Indian law and American legal ethics, and worked as a disability advocate.

Great Decisions Discussion group