IDFR Lecture Series 2/2015: Malaysia’s Role and Agenda in UN Security Council (UNSC)

Apr 15, 2015

The lecture series was attended by the Diplomatic Corps, Civil Society as well as students from selected universities

Puan Hjh. Norani Ibrahim, Director (Special Project), Institute of Diplomacy and Foreign Relations (IDFR)

Yang Berbahagia Tan Sri Razali Ismail, Chairman, Global Movement of Moderates Foundation (GMMF)

Excellencies and members of the Diplomatic Corps,

My fellow panellists, Dr Maszlee Malik and Ms Zanariah Zainal Abidin,

Government officials,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Selamat Pagi.  Good morning!

Let me start by thanking IDFR for inviting me to speak and contribute to this Roundtable Discussion on “Malaysia’s Role and Agenda in the UN Security Council”.  Coming soon – roughly 6 months following Malaysia’s election to the Council - it is indeed an important and timely forum looking ahead to what Malaysia’s membership will bring.

This is the 4th time that Malaysia holds one of the 10 coveted non-permanent member seats (1965; 1989-90; 1999-2000), albeit after a 15 year lapse, with the resounding support of 187 out of 193 countries. This reflects the confidence that UN member states have in Malaysia’s ability to act on their behalf as the Security Council carries out its primary responsibility to maintain international peace and security, and do so in accordance with the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations as enshrined in the Charter (Ch. 5, Art. 24).  This is a notable achievement.

Given the diversity of our audience today – we have members of the diplomatic community, government officials from a wide range of ministries and departments, and students - please allow me to first provide a quick overview of the UN Security Council, and its role and functions, to set a common ground and help frame our discussions; and then to offer some perspectives on the contribution Malaysia can make as a non-permanent member of the Council.

As you all know, UN member States confer on the Security Council primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, and agree that in carrying out its duties under this responsibility, the Security Council acts on their behalf.  The Security Council is the smallest of the six principal organs of the UN, but a very important one.  The Council comprises 15 members - 5 permanent members and 10 non-permanent member states (Art. 23, Chapter 5), elected to two-year renewable terms.  The Security Council and how it exercises its powers and discharges its functions is more important now than ever before, given the increasing and protracted nature of conflicts within and across orders, and threats to peace and security around the world.

To remind ourselves, countries came together under the Charter of the United Nations for four purposes:

·         To maintain international peace and security;

·         To develop friendly relations among nations;

·         To cooperate in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms without distinction as to group, gender, language or religion; and

·         To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations for achievement of these common purposes.

In exercise of its powers to maintain international peace and security, the Security Council’s functions fall mainly under two headings: the pacific settlement of disputes; and action for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression.  In some cases, the Security Council can resort to imposing sanctions or authorise the use of force to maintain or restore international peace and security.  It is important to note that the resolutions of the Security Council are binding on all member states.

It is the Security Council that also recommends to the General Assembly the appointment of the UN Secretary-General and the admission of new Members to the United Nations; and elects, together with the General Assembly, the judges of the International Court of Justice, albeit independently of one another.

In recent years, we see the time and attention of the Security Council being increasingly consumed by conflicts, with over 400 ongoing conflicts around the world today, the majority, 337, being intrastate conflicts, and almost 80 interstate or internal conflicts.  Only 20 of these 400 conflicts are denominated wars; and about 176 of the remaining conflicts constituted violent crises, according to Conflict Barometer.  These conflicts continue to result in severe humanitarian consequences and large-scale human rights violations that affect the lives and livelihoods of millions of children, women and men, and seriously eroding the development gains that nations and regions have made over the years.

 We live today in a globalised, very interconnected world, where countries are not insulated from what happens in another. Globalisation increases the interactions among people, cultures, religions, and across geographies and regions; and with globalisation, we also have seen class and economic inequality grow, as well as the imbalances in access to and use of social and ecological resources.  These intensified interactions, at the same time they bring unprecedented benefits through social and economic progress, can increase the likelihood of dissonance and conflict.

In fact, at this year’s World Economic Forum, we saw geopolitical and societal risks dominate the WEF Global Risks 2015 Report. Geopolitical risk, namely, interstate conflict with regional consequences, is now viewed as the number one global risk in terms of likelihood and, for the first time, overtaking economic risks. 

Unless we can effectively manage the wide range of risks and prevent the risks from turning into conflict and disasters; and do so within a framework that adheres to universal values and principles that encourage and ensure greater respect for human dignity, freedom of opinion, expression, and beliefs, and other human rights and fundamental freedoms, the geopolitical and societal risks and tensions that we face will take even deeper roots and give rise to greater conflict.

This is the challenging context in which the Security Council must exercise its powers and discharge its role.  As we know, only permanent members have veto power over decisions. But non-permanent members, like Malaysia, have an important role to play.  While non-permanent members of the Security Council experience clear and well-known limits, there are certain tools at their disposal which allow them to exercise a more systemic influence on the Council’s work and outcomes.  For example, while holding this temporary seat, Malaysia:

·        Will participate in Council decisions that can authorize the deployment of troops from UN member countries, mandate cease-fires during conflict and impose economic penalties on countries. And through its participation, Malaysia can inform and influence the analysis, thinking, and public discourse around crucial issues for our human community, and help to find new insights, new pathways, and new solutions.

·        Also very important is the fact that any UNSC member can bring up an issue for discussion, in other words, initiate dialogue on an issue, if nine of the 15 members agree. Non-permanent members also can call for open thematic debates, during its presidency of the Council, which is held by each of the members in turn for one month. Malaysia will hold the Presidency of the Security Council in June 2015.

These are important opportunities for agenda setting, and afford an important space for Malaysia to move those issues that it has prioritised, such as moderation and peacekeeping, among others.

Non-permanent membership, then, is an important privilege and weighty responsibility.  And it is certainly a demonstration of confidence that members have entrusted this privilege to Malaysia to speak on their behalf.  Member States know that the UN Security Council’s efficiency depends on the legitimacy that non-permanent members can best imprint on it; and in a multi-polar, interconnected and diverse world, expectations of this legitimacy function can only be expected to increase.

As Malaysia discharges its role in the Council, it will enhance the country’s experience in taking a leadership role in solving multinational security and other issues and Malaysia’s ability to contribute to solving regional and global problems.  Malaysia’s non-permanent membership also can help in fine-tuning the balance between its own national interests and international responsibilities.

These are just a few of the opportunities and benefits that Malaysia’s non-permanent membership brings.  But membership also will increase expectations of, and demands for accountability from Malaysia, as UN member states and people who count on the United Nations Security Council to help realize their aspirations for peace and security call upon Malaysia and other members of the Council to help ensure the effective realisation of the four purposes of the United Nations set out in the Charter.

As intra- and interstate conflicts have come to dominate Security Council deliberations, discussions about humanitarian and human rights issues have also assumed increasing priority.  For instance, in relation to the humanitarian agenda, we see the Security Council convening on issues such as protection of civilians, and of women and children in armed conflict, ensuring unhindered humanitarian access, and holding accountable those who commit crimes against humanitarian workers in conflict situations; and we also see Council members voicing their concern over the grave humanitarian situation in specific country contexts. 

Malaysia, as a strong contributor to humanitarian response through both governmental channels and home-grown international NGOs like Mercy Malaysia, Malaysian Relief Agency and others, is also seen advocating through the Security Council for the international and donor community to continue with assistance to countries like Haiti, Afghanistan and others; and also calling for the international community to focus on the root causes of conflicts, rather than providing piecemeal responses.  We know that bridging the gap between emergency humanitarian aid and long-term development aid is essential to help people survive and get back on the path to self-reliance and dignity, and as such, we must find a way to shift the balance and focus more of the international aid budget on development to create the conditions for peace, security and development.

Security Council members are also now willing to grapple with human rights issues rather than simply refer them to the Human Rights Council (HRC) as in the past, in furtherance of Article 1(3) of the Charter which speaks to the Security Council’s role in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms without distinction as to group, gender, language or religion.

For example, the Security Council now regularly receives inputs from the Human Rights Council and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights often takes part in certain Council meetings, providing direct information on human rights violations; and the arrangement of meetings according to the “Arria Formula” has become an important mechanism for feeding additional human rights related information into the Council’s work. “Arria Formula” meetings are informal meetings hosted by one member of the Security Council to which other Council members are invited and during which experts and civil society representatives can share their insights with the Security Council.

The Security Council agenda increasingly reaffirms the interdependence and inextricable link between peace and security, development and human rights.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In this regard, Malaysia is a country that has been on an interesting and successful journey of development, but not without its own challenges and hurdles along the path. The people of this proud and diverse nation value highly the peace, security, stability and harmony that have allowed the country to transform from a low-income to the upper-middle income nation that it is now, and very soon to a high-income country, in a remarkably short time since its independence.

The valuable lessons learned along the way in balancing short-term and long-term development challenges towards ensuring sustainable development, as well as the understanding that sustainable development is dependent on civil, stable and peaceful societies,  particularly in the context of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation, renders Malaysia an important voice on the UN Security Council that is dealing with an exceptional number of conflicts within and between nations that threaten to wipe out developmental gains.

It is by now well established common knowledge, following on the sage words of former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, that security and development are closely interlinked and mutually reinforcing:- there is no security without development and no development without security; and both are essential to attaining sustainable peace.

Malaysia can certainly contribute to strengthening this discourse and emphasise the importance of breaking out of our silos and integrating efforts to address challenges under all three pillars of United Nations concern: peace and security, development, and human rights.

Malaysia’s five key priorities on the UN Security Council, on which no doubt Ms Zanariah from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will elaborate in greater detail, resonate with the present agenda, and the role and functions of the UN Security Council, and are in direct support of the enduring purposes of the UN.

Malaysia’s intent to contribute to advancing moderation globally; to advocate mediation as an approach to conflict resolution; to promote UN peacekeeping operations and facilitate the peace-building process in strife-torn countries; and to continue its pursuit of the  UNSC's comprehensive reformation, clearly has the support of the member states which elected it.

Malaysia’s experience and commitment to peace and security is also reflected in its contributions to peacekeeping operations. More than 29,000 Malaysians have served in more than 30 UN peacekeeping missions in over 20 countries over the past 50 years, beginning in 1960, only three years after Malaysia’s independence. Malaysia currently contributes 874 uniformed personnel to six peacekeeping missions, notably UNIFIL (827). The country is ranked 35th out of 120 troop- and police-contributing countries.  Of note are the ongoing preliminary discussions on Malaysia’s leading effort to establish an ASEAN Peacekeeping Force.

Malaysia has been a key facilitator of the peace process in Southern Philippines, backing up its advocacy for mediation as an approach to conflict resolution, and has made clear that beyond brokering the peace, it is important to stand by the parties to nurture and help maintain the peace.

The world needs more than ever tolerance, understanding and moderation to shape, support, and maintain peace and stability within and between countries, and Malaysia’s position on the Security Council provides an opportunity to strengthen efforts in this regard.

And contributions to the longstanding efforts for the restructuring and modernisation of the Security Council no doubt will be valued.

Malaysia’s success in meeting its priorities and objectives as it helps to further the Security Council agenda will be to the benefit all.

In conclusion, through Malaysia’s membership on the Security Council and of other UN bodies, we welcome the reaffirmation of this country’s faith in multilateralism as an essential approach in a multipolar world to secure peace and security, development and human rights.  As Malaysia races to achieve developed status in the next six years under its Vision 2020, and its engagement on these multilateral platforms also evolves, we look forward to Malaysia’s increased ability to contribute and make a difference regionally and globally.

The post-2015 development agenda that will be adopted in September 2015 to succeed the Millennium Development Goals can be achieved only in a world that is peaceful and secure.  We therefore count on Malaysia and other members of the Council to help realize people’s aspirations for peace and security and ensure the effective realisation of the four purposes of the United Nations.

Thank you.

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