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UNITED NATIONS – Observers are referring to the March 21 address by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the 191-member General Assembly as a call for action. Mr. Annan laid before the world body his plan for UN reform, ranging from investment in developing nations to steps to fight terrorism and collective action against genocide and ethnic cleansing. “We all know what the problems are and we know what we have promised to achieve. What is needed now is not more declarations or more promises; we need action–action to fulfill the promises already made,” Mr. Annan said.
His plan, entitled “In Larger Freedom,” also proposes expanding the Security Council and changing the Commission on Human Rights to a Human Rights Council to be elected by the full General Assembly, with two-thirds of the votes being necessary for successful membership. The report backs the definition of terrorism as any action that is “intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act.” Observers say that an agreement on the definition has eluded the world community for a long time.
During a March 23 speech before the Arab League in the Algerian capital city Algiers, Mr. Annan urged Arab leaders to unite behind the definition of terrorism in his proposal, which came from the November 2004 report of the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change.
“For too long, efforts at the United Nations to confront this vicious phenomenon (terrorism) have been weakened by the lack of a comprehensive convention on terrorism, based on a clear and agreed definition,” Mr. Annan said, according to the UN News Center.
The secretary-general said expanding and strengthening the Security Council was at the top of his list of reforms. He urged member states to make the council more representative of the international community and to “bring the organization in line with the realities of the 21st century.”
Two proposals under consideration in the reform package would increase the Security Council from 15 to 24 members. A story in USA Today, critiquing the proposed council expansion, noted, “wisely neither plan would give more nations a veto.” Under the present system, only the United States, Great Britain, China, Russia and France have the veto.
Observers are waiting for an official declaration from the 53-member African Union (AU) in response to Mr. Annan’s proposals. On March 3, AU foreign ministers emerged from their closed-door meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, resolving to demand five permanent seats, two of them with veto power, according to CNN.com.
AU Commission Chairman Alfa Oumar Konare reportedly said: “Today is a time for Africa, today indisputably is the hour of Africa.” According to the CNN story, he also said that the foreign ministers’ position reflected the African vision of the future of the continent and the place of Africa in the world.
The debate has begun in the General Assembly over Model A and B of the secretary-general’s council reform. Japanese representatives say that Japan supports Model A, which gives Africa two permanent seats. On the same wavelength, South African high-level delegates are saying that Model B leaves Africa without any permanent seats.
The Financial Times reported March 28 that Brazilian diplomats had “stepped up” their efforts to gain a permanent seat. The story said that Brazil had become more confident of the chances in gaining a council seat because of the growing international support for Japan.
Brazil and Japan are members of the “Group of Four”–Germany, India, Brazil and Japan–nations that are most often mentioned as candidates for the new permanent seats.
Mr. Annan will be lobbying for his reform plan between now and the 60th General Assembly in September.
Some ambassadors noted during plenary sessions that the member states were well aware of the need for “momentum,” but the membership would not be pushed into any “timeline.”
Ambassador Wang Guangya of China, with specific reference to the Security Council reform, said, “As vital interests of all States are at stake, then we should seek common ground, adhering to the principles of achieving a consensus and avoiding ram-rodding immature proposals or setting artificial time limits.”