Tomorrow, 31 December, Belgium’s sixth mandate in the UN Security Council (VNVR) will come to an end. Two and a half years ago, our country had received the support of no less than 181 countries to sit at the table of the most important body for international peace and security for two years. During those two years, Belgium has been active on all the dossiers on the agenda of this body.
“Such a mandate is not an easy responsibility in times of increasing geopolitical tensions, shifting balances and increased pressure on the multilateral system,” says Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmès. “But with collective commitment and the assumption of responsibility, the international community can better address the numerous international challenges.”
Belgium was entrusted with a number of important files and functions for this mandate. Our country has chaired the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, where the Security Council makes recommendations to countries to better protect children from the impact of conflict. Belgium also chaired the Somalia Sanctions Committee, where sanctions, including an arms embargo, help against the serious instability in the country. As co-author, Belgium sought consensus among the members of the Security Council on humanitarian issues related to the Syrian conflict, such as access for humanitarian aid, as well as for the UN Office for West Africa and Sahel (UNOWAS) mandate. Furthermore, Belgium gained recognition for the facilitation of Resolution 2231, a key text for the monitoring of the Iranian nuclear program and the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action-JCPOA.
The fight against violations of international law and human rights, against the erosion of humanitarian law of war and against impunity are other cornerstones of Belgium’s multilateral approach. Our country defended the role of the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a focal point during our mandate. Belgium also placed the theme of transitional justice on the agenda of the Security Council.
These special tasks gave direction to Belgian action in the UN Security Council. But our country also made a difference in other ways. A focus on transparency and openness translated into the regular involvement of civil society. “Belgian diplomacy attaches great importance to this,” emphasises Minister Wilmès. “We often ensured that human rights defenders or representatives of civil society sat at the table of the Security Council to share their insights and experiences.”
As a founding member of the European Union (EU), Belgium attached great importance to coordination among EU members of the Security Council. This resulted in a remarkable increase in the number of joint declarations that gave more visibility to the European voice.
Belgium was also a driving force behind the increasing cooperation among elected members of the Security Council (so-called “Elected 10” or “E10”). In 2019, for the first time in history, these members spoke with one voice in the Security Council in order to improve the working method of the Council and to make the division of tasks between permanent and non-permanent members more balanced. In the same year, Belgium, together with Kuwait and Tunisia, brought together all outgoing, current and incoming elected members in Brussels in order to further consolidate the cooperation. This fits in perfectly with the commitment to increased efficiency and effectiveness of the Security Council.
It is true that international tensions have an impact on dynamics and decision-making. But Minister Wilmès argues for nuance: “There is no doubt that the Security Council needs to be reformed. It is certain that a certain dynamic between some permanent members sometimes reduces the Security Council’s decisiveness. And the elected members occasionally have to compete against the permanent members. But the Security Council is still able to take important decisions on the most difficult crises in the world. Partly as a result of Belgian decisiveness, humanitarian access in Syria has been secured for millions of civilians. Or take, for example, the situation of children in conflict. Belgium led the Security Council in two years to no less than fifteen consensus texts on how to deal with violations of children’s rights in some of the most controversial country dossiers, such as Syria and Myanmar. This unprecedented achievement also required the willingness of all members of the UN Security Council“.
All departments of Belgian diplomacy were involved in the execution of the mandate. The Ministry of Defence also played a role with, among other things, expertise in the field. The deployment of the hundred or so Belgian UN Blue Helmets in MINUSMA (the UN peace mission in Mali), for example, gives our country expertise, credibility and recognition. Our country benefited from this experience when negotiating the mandates of the thirteen United Nations peacekeeping operations throughout the world.
The investment for a mandate in the Security Council is considerable, but necessary, according to Minister Wilmès. “We must play along, take responsibility and determine the direction. That is what we did. Once again, we confirmed our reputation as a bridge builder. We forged compromises. We stood for a broad concept of security, including international law, humanitarian law of war and human rights. And with, among other things, our diplomatic network in Africa, we gave important shape to the decisions of the UN Security Council”. In addition, the twenty-four months in the Security Council allowed an improved access to the main global players and the strengthening of cooperation with usual and less usual partners.
The head of the Belgian diplomacy looks back with satisfaction at a successful mandate in the Security Council. However, there is no place for complacency. The next steps for Belgian multilateral diplomacy are already in view. This year, our country chairs the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Belgium will also lead the Disarmament Conference in 2021. Furthermore, our country is campaigning for the role of chairman of the 5th Committee of the UN General Assembly. And Belgium is aiming for a seat on the Human Rights Council from 2023 onwards. These are just a few examples of Belgium’s commitment to effective multilateralism.