12 August 2015

U.N. Security Council discusses maintenance-of-international peace and security challenges facing small island developing states

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OTR Commentary

The Security Council session on security issues of small island developing states (SIDS) served to illustrate the vagaries and inconsistencies associated with the participation of autonomous countries in the United Nations process. 

Ironically, it is the Security Council through its Rule 39 * - and not the more inclusive General Assembly - which  provides for such participation by non-state actors, and in this case, the elected governments of autonomous countries (which along with non self-governing territories comprise the broader category of Non Independent Countries)But just how the Security Council designated the representatives of these countries at the session on SIDS is the subject of a degree of curiosity. 

For example, whilst the nameplate for the Premier of Niue properly showed the name of his country, the nameplate for the Cook Islands Finance Minister had only his personal name as if he was there in his private capacity. Of course, he was introduced as the Minister of the Cook Islands Government - but the nameplate did not so indicate. Since both countries are states in association with New Zealand, the question was raised as to why one listed by country name and the other by personal name? 

Some wonder whether this was a signal aimed at the Cook Islands by the New Zealand Government which has opposed the recent interest of that autonomous country in U.N. membership. (The New Zealand Ambassador presided over the Security Council session). The three Pacific associated states of the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Palau have enjoyed full U.N. membership since shortly after the dissolution of the U.N. Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI) at the beginning of the 1990s, so the Cook Islands interest is not inconsistent with U.N. practice. As arguably the most autonomous of the association models worldwide, U.N. membership would appear to be a most logical step. Or so it would seem. 

Amid this scenario, was the mistaken introduction by the New Zealand ambassador of the Niue Premier as the representative of the New Zealand-administered non self-governing territory of Tokelau more than a Freudian slip? Or was there some further message being sent at the Security Council session on SIDS?

Such inconsistencies at the Security Council session extended to the Caribbean as well in the person of the Prime Minister of the 'autonomous country" of Aruba who has the proclivity of representing - not Aruba - but rather the Kingdom of the Netherlands in certain international fora. Under the novel constitutional arrangement, the countries of Aruba, Curacao, Sint Maarten, and Holland are the four (theoretically) equal partners of the Kingdom. But one appears to be more equal than the others as the Kingdom Government based in Holland is clearly dominant, and exercises unilateral authority pursuant to a 'good governance guarantee' provision of the Kingdom Charter.  

Even so, a provision in the Kingdom Charter does provides for distinct participation of the autonomous countries in international organisations. Curacao - more than the other two Caribbean autonomous countries - appears to be more inclined to take advantage of these powers of representation in its own right consistent with the expressed policy of the elected government in favour of a preparatory process for eventual independence.

But under the Aruba scenario, it was not surprising that the nameplate in front of the Prime Minister of Aruba read "Netherlands" - not Aruba - with the Prime Minister beginning his statement with, "I have the honour to speak on behalf of the Kingdom of the Netherlands". It is reported that the same characterisation applied to the United Nations Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) which convened in Samoa in September 2014. 

Ironically, the three Dutch autonomous countries in the Caribbean - along with other non-independent countries in the Caribbean and Pacific - had specific eligibility to participate, in their own right, under the rules of procedure of the Samoa meeting which provided for the direct participation of the thirteen associate member countries (AMCs) of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the nine associate member countries of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). 

The U.N. General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) have been consistent in providing space for the associate member countries to participate in most of the U.N. world conferences and special sessions in the economic and social sphere. At the political level, the Fourth Committee of the General Assembly (and the smaller Decolonisation Committee) have facilitated the participation of those non-independent countries which are formally listed as non self-governing in meetings of the two bodies (even as the impact of their involvement varies from territory to territory).    

Overall, the U.N. system will continually be challenged to find ways and means to facilitate the participation of non-independent countries in their own interest consistent with the U.N. Charter, relevant rules of procedure of the U.N.'s constituent bodies and U.N. resolutions. The development process of these countries would be further enhanced through a consistent application of the these long-established rules. The observed inconsistencies as practiced in the Security Council session on SIDS is contradictory to this approach.  


* Rule 39 of the Security Council: The Security Council may invite members of the Secretariat or other persons, whom it considers competent for the purpose, to supply it with information or to give other assistance in examining matters within its competence.