United Nations

“A different world requires a different UN”.

Areas of UN reforms:

  1. UNSC Reforms
  2. UNGA revitalization
  3. Management Reforms
  4. Human Rights Council
  5. Peace keeping and Peace-building reforms
  6. Environmental Governance
  7. ECOSOC Reforms – settled.


UN Security Council Reforms

“United Nations today — with 193 Member States — is ‘vastly’ different from what it had been at its founding 70 years ago, with only 51 Member States”. Established at the end of WW II, United Nations reflected the then power balance in the world. 70 years have passed since then and the world has changed a lot, with rise of more global powers, processes such as globalization and technological revolution and challenges such as terrorism. The calls for UNSC reforms are given by new global powers to make UN more democratic, inclusive and representative of the contemporary world.  It is not yet proposed though as to how this would make UN more efficient in its functioning. But as UN is the only form resembling the world government, new powers and groups want a say at the decision making tables of UN.

UN Security Council is the chief body of powerful five nations within UN, taking decisions in security and peace related matters. They are distinguished by the requirement of their concurrence for the UN General Assembly decisions and the right of veto to each member of UNSC.

And while the main focus has been on changing the composition of the Council to make it more representative of contemporary realities, efforts to make the Council more accountable, effective, and transparent are of equal or greater importance to a large section of UN Member States. At this stage, only one quarter of the UN’s membership appears to be actively engaged in the IGN, in spite of the many efforts to create momentum during the last few years by those who stand to gain the most from expanding the Council’s membership.

Timeline of UNSC Reform Efforts

The reform of the Security Council has been on the agenda of the UN since 1993 when discussions first commenced in the format of the Open-Ended Working Group. The mounting frustration with prolonged and inconclusive debate led to the launching of Inter-Governmental Negotiations, or the IGN in 2007. Progress in the IGN, however, has so far only been incremental. The task before the IGN today is clear: to begin actual text-based negotiations where genuine differences of view can be addressed and resolved.

  • Open-Ended Working Group on UNSC reforms was established in 1993. Did not yield any substantial results.
  • The Intergovernmental Negotiations (IGN) on reforming the Security Council (SC) began in 2009 and still going on.
  • President of the previous (68th) session of the General Assembly, John Ashe, established an Advisory Committee on Security Council reform in the fall of 2013 which produced a non-paper that many Member States hoped would replace the compilation/negotiations text. Since 2010, Member States have not been able to agree on which revision of the compilation/negotiations text – Rev2 or Rev3, each about 30 pages long. The Advisory Group’s non-paper – six pages long – failed to receive wide acceptance as a shorter negotiation text. Nevertheless, G4 countries continue to call it the PGA’s non-paper, with Brazil still promoting it as a possible negotiation text.
  • In September 2015, UNGA approved a modified Populated Framework Document, in the form of a letter of PGA and its two annexes as the document for beginning text-based negotiations on UNSC expansion reforms and roll over of the negotiations to the 70th Session of UNGA.

The present efforts by G-4 plus 2 in reform process are centered on moving towards text based negotiations. The first step towards it is to produce a shortened text version of reform proposals over which member countries could negotiate. The G4 believes a shorter text would more readily facilitate a narrowing down of positions – through straw polls, for instance.

Issues in UNSC Reforms: Under the terms of UN Resolution 62/557, five issues are officially part of this reform effort:

  1. expansion of UNSC,
  2. the right of veto,
  3. regional representation,
  4. size of the Council and
  5. working methods, plus the relationship of the Council with the General Assembly.

In accordance with UN Charter provisions, amendments on the composition of the Security Council require the approval of 2/3rd of the membership, present and voting. But, in this case, a resolution from 1998 (A/RES/53/30) stipulates that reform of the Security Council should be carried by 2/3rd of the whole membership: currently 129 out of a total of 193. Moreover, the Charter stipulates that any amendments have to be ratified by 2/3rd of the membership, including the five permanent members, before they come into effect.

Different versions of expansion of UNSC expansion:

  1. new permanent members with veto rights extended immediately; or
  2. veto rights extended with the caveat that those veto rights would (voluntarily) not be used until a review would take place;
  3. permanent seats without veto rights;
  4. longer-term seats that could become permanent seats after a review;
  5. longer-term seats that could be renewable through re-elections, creating de facto or semi-permanent seats;
  6. longer-term seats that could be immediately renewable only once without an interval;
  7. longer-term seats that would not be immediately renewable;
  8. non-permanent seats (or some of them) that could be renewable;
  9. additional two-year non-permanent seats besides new permanent seats, or
  10. only adding non-permanent seats.
  11. Complicating any assessment is the understanding that while some Member States publicly support one position, privately they indicate they could consider other options depending on how the reform process plays out.

Add the following questions and the complexity of reaching a decision becomes even more evident.

  1. whether veto rights should be limited in some way or
  2. whether new permanent seats should be nominated by regions
  3. and perhaps represent their regions rather than serve in their national capacities

Why UNSC reforms are so difficult?

  • Big powers (P5) in UNSC do not want to dilute their exclusive status and power.
  • The jealousy among other countries for new UNSC aspirants.
  • Non-agreement on exact mode of UNSC expansion such as which countries are to added to UNSC and the status of veto power in the new body.
  • Procedural maneuvering by those who oppose adding new permanent seats is often blamed for this vexing standstill. However, sufficient political will to compromise among some of the key players may be equally, if not more, responsible for the lack of progress.

Progress so far – Sam Kutesa, President of the 69th General Assembly (PGA) appointed Courtenay Rattray (Jamaican PR) as the Chair of IGN. PGA Kutesa made efforts to prepare a ‘framework document’ by populating different positions of member countries on UNSC reforms. Efforts were made in this direction earlier as well. In December 2009, a large group of 138 countries signed a letter requesting the Chair to “present Member States …a text with options to serve as a basis for negotiation.” Accordingly in 2010 a “negotiation text” was released by then IGN Chair Tanin. But because of opposition from various groupings about either Rev 2 or Rev 3 – plus the strong reservations from China and Russia about any text whatsoever, it was shelved. The efforts were revived again in 2015 and a draft negotiation text on the basis of PGA’s 31 July letter and its two annexes  was released so as to continue intergovernmental negotiations on Council reform in informal plenary sessions at its seventieth session.

In view of the risks, one of the key questions to ask at this time is whether a shorter text would really facilitate the negotiations. For instance, is there presently enough political will to bring about convergence among Member States for a particular outcome to be reached, following give-and-take negotiations? But without an agreed text, one insider claims, convergence cannot be efficiently pursued.

Current Positions of Different Groups

The Group of Four (G4: Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan) advocate for a new permanent seat for each of its members, as well as two such seats for Africa. The official stance of the G4 has been the same for a long time, although five years ago, Brazil, Germany and Japan seemed open to exploring compromise models such as longer-term seats, especially if they could transition into permanent seats at a later stage. But India did not concur. At present, the G4 is believed to be lobbying many capitals with its own non-paper that has the following elements on expansion and the right of veto:

“Membership of the Security Council shall be enlarged in both categories, new permanent members and new non-permanent members. Member States should continue discussion on the use of the veto in certain circumstances and, in this context, the following voluntary offer is made.

New permanent members would as a principle have the same responsibilities and obligations as current permanent members. However, new permanent members shall not exercise the veto-right until a decision on the matter has been taken during a review, to be held 15 years after the coming into force of the reform.”

The African Group/C10

Although the African Group puts a common position forward in the IGN, it hides the same kind of internal divisions found in the other regions. There are self-nominated candidates (South Africa and Nigeria, among others); those that oppose them, including competing large countries and disgruntled neighbors; some that insist on veto rights to be extended as long as veto rights exist; some that are willing to compromise to bring about convergence with the G4; some that want African permanent seats to be accountable to their region, in which case every Council decision might have to go through the African Union in Addis Ababa, giving the whole region a veto; some that prefer longer-term rotating seats rather than new permanent seats; some that have little to gain and are quite indifferent at this point, etc.

In 2005, South Africa and Nigeria tried to bring about a convergence with the G4 that would allow a final decision on veto rights to be postponed until a future review took place. Resistance to this idea from parts of the African Union was intense and the Committee of 10 was established to act as a focal point on SC reform and to explore convergences with other groupings. The C10 represents the five African regions and consists of Algeria, Congo Brazzaville/Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Libya, Namibia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Zambia.

The Ezulwini Consensus asks for two permanent seats with veto rights for Africa – to be elected by the AU – and a total of five non-permanent seats for their region.

The P2 (permanent members France and the UK) also publicly favor new permanent seats for the G4 and two African countries. However, its stance differs significantly from that of the G4. The P2 would like to create a new category of longer-term seats that could become permanent seats after a review. Again, any relevant Charter amendments would be rather complex. And the extension of veto rights is left undecided.

The P3 (permanent members China, Russian Federation, and the US) publicly favor moderate expansion with some new permanent members, but they do not agree on which countries exactly, which might be intentional by making it even harder to find a solution. The P3 is unlikely to agree to the extension of veto rights or to leave it to the rest of the UN membership to elect new permanent members. Some sources indicate that the P3 is increasingly willing to consider longer-term seats, but are reluctant – or feel no need – to actively promote such a solution while Member States remain intensely divided. Probably, the status quo is the P3’s preferred option.

The Uniting for Consensus (UfC) group is opposed to adding any new permanent seats. Instead, they have advocated for adding only non-permanent seats or a new category of longer-term seats. Currently, this grouping is believed to favor possible terms of three or four years that could be immediately renewed once without an interval. In 2005 – during intense negotiations at the World Summit – it was reported to be willing to accept 10-year seats. Its members consist of regional rivals of the G4 and others espousing principled objections to permanent seats. Like any grouping it experiences internal divisions, with some being more flexible than others. It has a core membership of about a dozen members (Italy is the focal point and others are believed to be Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Malta, Mexico, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, San Marino, Spain, and Turkey) and China and Indonesia take an active part in this grouping as well. It has come across as a grouping that uses procedural obstacles to stall the negotiations. To be fair, the African Group and some permanent members have often shared their objections on how to proceed. Besides the core group of the UfC, between 20-30 other Member States privately endorse the idea of longer-term and/or renewable seats. Some of these don’t like the strategies the UfC employs in the IGN process. Possibly – as long as the G4 overplays its cards or when it would renege on promises made thus far – support for longer-term and renewable seats may significantly increase.

L69. This grouping of developing countries consists of 40 Member States: G4 members Brazil and India, 11 African countries, plus some Small Island Developing States (SIDS), CARICOM members and a handful of Member States from Latin America. At the IGN, Pacific small island states and CARICOM (Caribbean Community – 12 countries) often make separate statements, but their membership largely overlaps with that of L69.

Interestingly, at a C10 meeting held in Oye last year, the C10 recommended that no African country should belong to any other grouping, but whether this has been acted upon is unclear to the Center at this time.

L69 was the name of a draft resolution that forced the IGN to start and its endorsers remained active, apparently regularly meeting at India’s Mission. The original L69 resolution called for expansion in both permanent and non-permanent categories, without specifically referring to veto rights. In 2012, however, the L69 announced at the IGN that it agreed to veto rights extended immediately. Since 2012 – after convergence with the C10 fell through – the grouping continuous to have some proponents that firmly believe in veto rights for new permanent members and also includes many that have been willing to be more flexible, in line with the G4. It seems likely that the G4 is lobbying the members of this grouping to endorse the principles of their 2014 non-paper.

Besides the above groupings, the Arab group has proposed having its own permanent seat, the East Europeans have advocated for a second dedicated non-permanent seat for themselves, and Small Island Developing States (SIDS – 52 countries) would like a cross-regional non-permanent seat. These demands complicate those of the G4 and African groupings.

 Will 2015 be any different?

The G4 – the most active player in this process – clearly wants a shorter text for the IGN and the chance to reduce it even more by means of straw polls until a framework resolution will emerge that will allow moving the deliberations from informal meetings to a plenary where a solution can be voted on. But if this was easy to achieve, would it not have already materialized? It seems that any support for new permanent members is conditional on many unresolved issues: veto rights extended/limited or not; sufficient improvements in working methods; when and how would any new permanent members be chosen; can the demands of the Arab Group, East Europeans, and small island states be reconciled with those of the G4 and Africa, etc. And when it comes down to it, how many Member States are willing to stand up to the five permanent members, especially the powerful P3, for the direct benefit of only the G6 (G4 plus Nigeria and South Africa).

Adding SC reform to the agenda of the Special Summit on Sustainable Development in September 2015 has met considerable resistance. And the idea of convening a separate high-level meeting on SC reform around the same time has not garnered much support thus far. Potentially, both would create a deadline for the negotiations and get capitals re-engaged, possibly allowing for a ‘replay’ of efforts made during the 2005 Summit.

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FAQs on UNSC Reforms – centerforunreform.org

UNGA Accepts Populated Framework Document as the Negotiation Text to move towards Text Based Negotiations on UN Reforms.

UN 69th session, GA meeting

In a draft decision submitted by Assembly President Sam Kutesa (Uganda) (document A/69/L.92), the body decided to reaffirm its central role on the question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council and other related matters.

As such, it decided to immediately continue intergovernmental negotiations on Council reform in informal plenary sessions at its seventieth session, as mandated by decisions adopted since 2008, and building on work undertaken during the sixty-ninth session, as well as positions and proposals reflected in the text and annex of a 31 July letter circulated by the Assembly President.

The Assembly, by the text, decided it would convene the Open-ended Working Group on the Question of Equitable Representation on and Increase in the Membership of the Security Council and Other Matters related to the Security Council during the seventieth session, if Member States so decided.

Mr. Kutesa said the United Nations today — with 193 Member States — was “vastly” different from what it had been at its founding 70 years ago, with only 51 Member States.  Achieving the noble objectives enshrined in the United Nations Charter required bold steps to transform the Council in a way that reflected today’s geopolitical realities. Most States had further populated the “framework document”, which had culminated in a text and its annex, circulated in his 31 July letter. He welcomed that a platform had emerged, in the current session, to exchange ideas on positions and proposals.

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Reforms in Security Council’s working methods

Proposals for the reform of the Security Council’s working methods address the procedural side of the Council rather than structural. Advocates of these proposals believe improved working methods could in turn increase the effectiveness, transparency, and efficiency of the Security Council’s work. Such reforms could involve —

  1. making changes to veto privileges or use of the veto,
  2. the penholder system,
  3. the selection process for the Secretary-General, and
  4. the transparency of the Council’s sessions,
  5. Many other issues such as expanding the mandate of Ombudsperson to sanctions regimes other than Al-Qaida sanctions regime, etc.

Security Council Code of Conduct proposal by ACT Group

On 1 September, 2015, members of the ACT Group released their final text on a Code of Conduct regarding Security Council action against ‘genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes’. According to the Explanatory Note, current supporters of the Code are: 25 Members of ACT (Austria, Chile, Costa Rica, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Gabon, Ghana, Hungary, Ireland, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Maldives, New Zealand, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Portugal, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and Uruguay) as well as Belize, the Netherlands, Spain and Ukraine.

Notably, the Code of Conduct invites all Member States to “formally support” the pledge–including those who are not currently members of the Council, but may be elected in the future. This contrasts with alternative efforts to improve the working methods of the Security Council, such as the French initiative, which focuses on restraining the veto power of the Council’s permanent members under specific circumstances such as during  voting on mass atrocities.

Link for UNSC Code of Conduct proposal

French initiative – France and Mexico has proposed a new code of conduct that would impose restraints of the veto powers of the five permanent members (P5) of the UN Security Council in cases of mass atrocities. It would be voluntary. France also supports the Accountability, Coherence, and Transparency (ACT) group’s proposed Security Council Code of Conduct.

Besides some skepticism about the French and Mexico Initiative being a genuine proposal – some see it as a way to stall negotiations on expansion – there is a good chance that the details would take many years to sort out, even if it continues to gain considerable support from countries and civil society. Reportedly, some 60 Member States have expressed interest, as have some influential NGOs. But how to define mass atrocities? Who would determine whether a situation involves mass atrocities? And could such a determination be done quickly? Would the P3 endorse such a restraint, especially when it could easily collide with national priorities? For instance, the US regularly uses its veto in situations involving Israel and Palestine. Russia and China don’t want to intervene in Syria. The chance of Ukraine getting UN peacekeepers is painfully slim because of Russia. Restraining veto rights might make sense, but you will need a very large number of Member States besides global civil society to effectively push for it to overcome resistance from some of those who currently enjoy the veto, and some of those who hope to get it in the future.


UNGA Revitalization

UN General Assembly revitalization issues are of particular significance for developing countries.


  1. The role and authority of the General Assembly – autonomy of functioning vis-à-vis Security Council, avoidance of encroachment in functioning, effective co-ordination of General Assembly with all other organs of UN.
  2. Working methods – procedural reforms to improve functioning of UNGA. For example, enhancing the interaction between the GA and its main committees, adopting lessons learned and sharing best practices between different organs.
  3. The selection and appointment of the Secretary General and other executive heads – e.g. Use of a secret ballot vote in the selection and appointment of the SG in the General Assembly, increased role for the President of the General Assembly (PGA) in selection of candidates.
  4. The institutional memory of the office of the President of the General Assembly – increasing funding of PGA office, balanced gender and geographical representation in the Office of the PGA.


UN Management Reform 

Management reform underpins all other reforms and, as Secretary-General Kofi Annan observed: “Failure to carry through reform in any one of these areas can greatly reduce or nullify the value of reform in all the others.”

The reforms aim to increase the UN’s capability to comply with its principles, objectives and mandates more efficiently and effectively, while improving transparency, accountability, and integrity. The 2005 World Summit, “Outcome Document,” identified following main proposals with regards to management reform:

  1. Reform of the Secretariat’s management structure – making bureaucracy streamlined and efficient, giving equitable geographical and gender representation in the bureaucracy, reforming the human resources and increasing use of ICT to make administration more efficient, transparent and accountable, procurement reforms, etc.
  2. Review of all mandates older than five years originating from General Assembly and other organs.
  3. System-wide Coherence and Co-ordination across different organs of UN – lots of duplication, cross-purpose activities, wastage, etc.
  4. Restructuring of the Office for Internal Oversight (OIOS) for evaluating UN activities – lack of operational independence, inadequate funding, etc.
  5. Establishment of an Ethics Office
  6. Increasing the powers of Secretary-General.

System-wide Coherence

To improve coordination and coherence within the U.N. system, in 2007 member states created the “Delivering as One” initiative in eight pilot countries to harmonize U.N. system-wide activities at the country level under one leader, one budget, one programme, and in one office. In 2011 they consolidated four existing U.N. entities addressing women’s issues into “UN Women,” a specialized agency to address gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Differences in Developed and Developing Countries Regarding Management Reforms

Past reform debates in the U.N. General Assembly and its committees have drawn attention to fundamental differences that exist among some member states, particularly developing countries (represented primarily by the Group of 77) and developed countries (particularly the United States, Japan, and members of the European Union).

Developed countries, which account for the majority of assessed contributions to the U.N. regular budget, tend to focus on the United Nations’ role in maintaining international peace and security and the overall efficiency of the organization. They would like the Secretary-General to have greater flexibility and authority to implement reforms, specifically those related to oversight and human resources. They make significantly larger financial contributions to the U.N. system than developing countries and therefore want to ensure that their funds are used in ways they perceive as most effective.

Conversely, developing countries, which constitute the largest U.N. voting bloc, often focus on development-oriented policies. They generally object to reforms that would enhance the power of the Secretary-General and decrease the power of the General Assembly and its Fifth Committee (which addresses budget and administrative issues). In the past, some developing countries have expressed concern that reform initiatives might drain resources from development programs. They have also suggested that reforms proposed by the Secretary-General tend to be influenced by countries that are the largest financial contributors to the United Nations.

Many observers are concerned that the aforementioned difference in reform philosophy has created deadlocks in the General Assembly and significantly delayed the implementation of management and budget reforms.

U.N. Human Rights Council

In March 2006, the General Assembly adopted a resolution replacing the Commission on Human Rights with a new Human Rights Council. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN-HCHR) now works under Human Rights Council (UN-HRC). Many governments viewed the Council’s establishment as a key component of U.N. reform. The Council was designed to be an improvement over the Commission, which was criticized by many governments and human rights experts when widely perceived human rights abusers were elected as members.

The reform issues in front of Human Rights Council are as follows –

  1. Deciding trigger mechanism for moving a human rights issue onto HRC table.
  2. Membership of HRC – Countries with critical human rights record are still provided membership of HRC.
  3. Universal Periodic Review of human rights record of countries in question.
  4. Independence of Special Procedures

Special procedures‘ mandates usually call on mandate holders to examine, monitor, advise and publicly report on human rights situations both in specific countries or territories, or on major phenomena of human rights violations worldwide. Most special procedures receive information on specific allegations of human rights violations and send urgent appeals or letters of allegation to Governments asking for clarification.

Countries like Russia, China want to tighten up the code of conduct for special procedures, while the independence of the special procedures is emphatically defended by reformers. Reformers led by developed countries press on the need for ‘urging’/obliging State cooperation with special procedures while developing country groups like NAM, AU, OIC, China, Russia, etc are for voluntary co-operation.

Peace-making, Peace-keeping and Peace-building reforms


  1. Absence of consultation with all relevant stake holders such as neighbouring countries, troop contributing countries. The penholder system is not an inclusive process to make decisions.
  2. Questionable humanitarian interventions.
  3. Fall back into civil/ethnic strife i.e. collapse of peace soon after resolution of conflict.
  4. Improving co-ordination of UNSC with International Financial Institutions (IFIs) and various agencies of UN to facilitate timely financing, institution building and field operations. Peace-building Support Office (PBSO) was established in 2007 for this purpose.
  5. Inadequate troop and funds contribution.
  6. Certain instances of UN troop abuses on local population and corruption issues.

(In penholder system, the one country in UNSC which drafts first resolution regarding an issue takes lead in managing that issue thenceforth. Though, efficient from management perspective, it often excludes other members from decision making process. Many a times, lead country holding the pen for drafting resolutions on particular matter like a peace-building mission, is not fully aware of the ground situation.)

Peace-building Commission

The Peace-building Commission is a newly formed advisory body at the U.N. Created as a result of the Outcome Document 2005, it aims to prevent unstable peace agreements from collapsing within a few years, and to help prevent war-torn countries from once again falling into deadly conflict. The Commission was established with the adoption of joint resolutions from the General Assembly and the Security Council, on December 20th, 2005. The Peace-building Commission serves as a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly and the Security Council.

Peace-building Commission Goals

The primary objective of the UN Peace-building Commission is to aid states in transitioning from a post-conflict environment to an environment of sustainable peace. The Peace-building Commission acts in a primarily advisory role, providing input when solicited by the Security Council, ECOSOC or the General Assembly, and the Secretary-General. Member states on the verge of relapsing into conflict or member states emerging from conflict may petition the commission for assistance directly, provided that the Security Council is not already involved.

The main task of the Peace-building Commission is that of bringing together all relevant actors to advise and propose integrated strategies for post-conflict peace-building and recovery. Attention will be paid to reconstruction and institution-building to support a foundation of sustainable development. The Commission will act primarily as an advisory body in an attempt to develop best practices, to ensure financing for early recovery activities, and to increase and continue the attention given by the international community to post-conflict recovery.

The hope behind the creation of the Peace-building Commission is to aid states in developing sustainable infrastructure, societies, and governments that will be able to increase the longevity of the peace agreements brokered to end the violence. That is not to say that the United Nations will abandon all preventative or peacekeeping measures in its peace sustaining efforts, however, the creation of the Peace-building Commission affirms the importance of focusing on the post-conflict environment.

Origins of the Peace-building Commission

The Peace-building Commission was proposed by the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change and was endorsed by the Secretary-General’s In Larger Freedom report, on March 21, 2005.  In this report, Kofi Annan identified a gap in the institutional workings of the United Nations in which no UN body effectively addressed the challenges of the transition from war to lasting peace in post-conflict countries. Fifty percent of all conflicts collapse back into violence within five years of reaching a peace agreement, a fact which can be attributed to this institutional gap. As a result, the conception and formulation of the Peace-building Commission was actualized in the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document which stipulated the Peace-building Commission to be operational by December 31, 2005.