Straw urges UN reform and attacks response to Darfur

Posted in Other , Africa | 03-Sep-04 | Author: Ewen MacAskill| Source: Guardian

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (L) looks out over the Abu Shouk refugee camp near El Fasher in Darfur, Sudan.
The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, urged reform of the United Nations security council yesterday after criticising the body for its slow response to the humanitarian disaster in Sudan.

Mr Straw, in a speech calling for a reshaping of the UN to create a stronger body, said: "We need to be able to act earlier, as threats emerge, and our action needs to be sustained."

The UN is embarked on the latest of several attempts at reform over the last decade.

An independent panel is preparing proposals by the end of the year for the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, including expanding the 15-member security council to 24. The Foreign Office and Downing Street are also trying to find a new set of post-Iraq criteria to justify UN intervention in sovereign states.

Mr Straw said that the security council had expanded over the last few years the range of issues regarded as a threat to peace: overthrow of a democratically-elected government, terrorism, large-scale human rights violations, humanitarian catastrophe, refugee crises and states that flout their international obligations on weapons of mass destruction.

"We now need to take that evolution further, with the council beginning to treat such issues more consistently, and as a matter of course, rather than in the relatively ad hoc way in which it has done so to date," he said.

Since the Iraq invasion, the UN has embarked on peacekeeping missions in Liberia, Ivory Coast and Haiti, with a further mission pencilled in for Sudan if agreement is reached to end the north-south civil war.

Mr Straw said: "It can no longer be acceptable to classify situations such as that in Darfur, or before in Rwanda or Kosovo, as simply the concern of one national government." Governments had a responsibility towards their own people. "So we are, correctly, not allowing the Sudanese government to regard the situation in Darfur as a sovereign matter which is none of the world's business - but, instead, we are putting pressure on that government to meet its responsibility to provide security for its own people."

The security council yesterday began discussion on whether to apply sanctions against the Sudanese government. The likeliest outcome is a fudge that will see the Sudanese government given another 30 days to comply with UN demands. Although the British government officially refuses to rule out western military intervention in Darfur, it prefers to leave the issue of security to a force provided by the 53-member pan-continental African Union.

Mr Straw, speaking at Chatham House, the London-based thinktank on international relations, said there had to be a quicker response to emerging threats. "Despite the warnings from United Nations staff this spring of looming catastrophe in Darfur, and active efforts by the UK to draw international attention to the situation, it took the security council until the end of July to agree a resolution."

Mr Straw supports the creation of a permanent strategic unit for Mr Annan that would try to identify failed states and crises such as Darfur early on. When the idea was floated two years ago, the US, backed by some developing states, opposed it.

The foreign secretary touched on the issue of widening the security council, saying new members should be aware that with representation came responsibility. "That does not necessarily imply accepting specific military commitments. But it does require strong engagement with security issues across the board wherever they arise."

The panel is proposing expanding the council to 24 states but Britain and the other permanent members are refusing to give up their vetoes. Expansion is unlikely to happen, given the difficulty of agreeing who the new members should be and the unwillingness of existing members to give up their privileged position.