UN Reform at the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly

by Jessica Kroenert
29 October 2015

The 70th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) general debates were held from 28 September - 3 October 2015, and featured a number of world leaders reflecting on the achievements of the Organization thus far, as well as discussing reforms that they see as necessary for its future success.

A number of UN reform topics were discussed, including the selection process of the Secretary General, Peacekeeping reform, General Assembly (GA) revitalization, expansion of the Security Council, use of the veto and ACT Code of Conduct, Peacebuilding reform, and mentions of the Human Rights Council (HRC). Below is a summary of who said what by-topic, and a by-the-numbers breakdown of how many states discussed each topic.*

Security Council Expansion
By far, the most widely mentioned UN reform topic was the expansion and reform of the Security Council. The most commonly referenced proposal for Security Council expansion was the addition of permanent seats for Africa, a position expressed by Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, India, Namibia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, and Zimbabwe.

Many of these states subscribed to the common African position of adding two permanent seats and two nonpermanent seats for Africa. Other speakers, including the Netherlands and Ukraine, called for better African representation on the Council without specific mention to permanent or nonpermanent seats.

Chile called for the expansion of permanent membership, and Iceland for expansion of both permanent and non-permanent membership. India called for permanent representation for Africa and Latin America, and greater participation of developing countries in the decision-making structure. Ukraine called for greater representation of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, as well as non-permanent seats for Eastern Europe. The latter was also supported by Latvia. Japan pledged to continue pursuing its own permanent membership, and Georgia called for increased representation of small states.

Notably, two of the five permanent members of the Council addressed SC reform in their statements, with France supporting expansion and “different representation,” and the UK stating that “the UN must strive to represent the new realities of our age, with a reformed Security Council.”

Member States who broadly referenced support for increased transparency and expansion of the Council include Afghanistan, Austria, Bhutan, Cambodia, Congo, Denmark, Ireland, Malawi, Myanmar, Pakistan, Paraguay, Philippines, Senegal, Slovenia, Tanzania, Timor-Leste, Trinidad & Tobago, and Tuvalu.

Security Council: The Veto
Restraint in the use of the veto by the permanent five members of the Security Council was another widely discussed UN reform topic. The following states vocalized support for restraint the use of the veto in their statements, many explicitly referencing their support for France and Mexico’s joint political declaration: Australia, Austria, Central African Republic, Chile, Costa Rica, Estonia, Georgia, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, and Switzerland. Additionally, both Ukraine and Botswana expressed support for the France-Mexico political declaration as a step toward the elimination of the veto altogether.

In addition to states expressing support for restraint in the use of the veto, and more explicitly the France-Mexico political declaration, the following states explicitly expressed their support for the ACT Group’s Security Council Code of Conduct: Costa Rica, Estonia, France, Iceland, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, New Zealand, and Norway.

Many states specifically condemned Russia’s use of the veto. Australia, Lithuania, Malaysia, and Ukraine expressed concern over Russia’s veto of the resolution which would establish a tribunal for the MH17 plane downing, with Ukraine also condemning the Russian veto in regards to the annexation of Crimea. Lithuania and Liechtenstein condemned the Russian veto in the case of Syria.

New Zealand condemned the P5’s habit of negotiating outcomes before consulting the 10 elected Council members. French president François Hollande renewed France’s pledge to never use the veto in cases of mass atrocity and urged other P5 states to do the same. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea declared that it is difficult to tell if UNSC resolutions or UN Charter take precedence, and that the UN institution is continuously abused by a few powers. Estonia stated the veto has led to a failure to meet obligations under the Responsibility to Protect.

General Assembly Revitalization
The need for the revitalization and strengthening of the General Assembly was expressed by a number of states, including Algeria, Bahamas, Cambodia, Congo, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Iceland, Namibia, Philippines, Qatar, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, Tanzania, Trinidad & Tobago, and Vietnam. Afghanistan focused on the need for more flexibility and fast-track management in the GA, and Paraguay supported the restoration of the GA’s “legitimate powers,” which must be independent of those of the Security Council. Zimbabwe emphasized that the GA is the sole universally representative democratic organ of the UN.

Selection of the Secretary General
On the topic of the selection of the next UN Secretary-General (SG), Costa Rica, Estonia, Latvia, the Philippines, South Africa, and Zimbabwe called for a democratic, transparent process and greater participation by the GA. A number of states, including Bulgaria, Ecuador, Finland, Iceland, and Ireland, commented that it was time for a female to ascend to the position of Secretary-General. Regional considerations were also a concern, as Bulgaria and Latvia advocated for a candidate from Eastern Europe.

Economic and Social Council
Only two states mentioned reform of the Economic and Social Council. Bhutan briefly mentioned ECOSOC revitalization as critical in order to implement the post-2015 agenda. Kazakhstan proposed to transform ECOSOC into the Global Development Council, which would ensure all nations have equal access to institutions, infrastructure, resources, and markets. It would include all Member States of the GA and all heads of UN specialized agencies, including the IMF, in order to become a global economic regulator.

Human Rights Council
A handful of states mentioned improvements to be made to the Human Rights Council (HRC). Australia, with the announcement of their candidacy for the Council, noted that improved accountability would be part of their agenda if elected. Costa Rica stated that the HRC must better coordinate its efforts with the Security Council. Myanmar noted that while the establishment of the HRC was part of UN reform, human rights issues have become increasingly politicized, and described the Universal Periodic Review as the forum to address human rights protection with objectivity and impartiality. South Africa suggested that the HRC must be seen as an independent and impartial mechanism.

Peacekeeping Reform
On the issue of peacekeeping reform, a number of states welcomed the report of the High-level Panel on Peace Operations, including Canada, Croatia, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Ireland, Liberia, Myanmar, Norway, Philippines, Slovakia, Sri Lanka, and Ukraine. Some states announced increased contributions to peacekeeping, such as China, which declared plans to contribute to a permanent peacekeeping police squad, and have 8,000 troops on standby; and Denmark, which plans to increase its contributions to peacekeeping in Mali. Other states announced their plans to make informational contributions, with Japan prepared to contribute to filling information gaps, and Sweden offering to contribute to research of methods and doctrines.

Some states voiced specific concerns about peacekeeping operations. The Bahamas expressed concern over the financing of peacekeeping through the scales of assessment, declaring that GDP and GNI should not be the primary factors determining financial responsibility, and that no developing country should be classified above a level C on the scale. India criticized changes being made to PKO mandates without consultation, which it argued was a violation of Article 44 of the UN Charter. Croatia emphasized the importance of prioritizing the protection of civilians, and Ireland condemned sexual violence by peacekeepers against civilian populations, expressing support for Secretary Ban’s Zero-Tolerance Policy.

Peacebuilding Reform
A handful of states also called for the strengthening of peacebuilding operations. Australia expressed that they looked forward to co-chairing the Peacebuilding Architecture review later this year. Croatia, Liberia, and Ukraine also welcomed the review of the Peacebuilding Architecture. Bosnia and Herzegovina noted that they were looking to pass on their experience in peacebuilding through membership in the Peacebuilding Commission. The Philippines sought greater participation of women in peacebuilding efforts, with Croatia and Liberia welcoming the upcoming review of Security Council resolution 1325. Other states that noted general interest in strengthening peacebuilding included Tunisia, Norway, Angola, and Slovakia.

UN Reform Topics Discussed by the Numbers:
• Security Council Expansion: 39 states
• Use of the Veto on the Security Council: 24 states
• ACT Group Code of Conduct: 9 states
• General Assembly Revitalization: 21 states
• Secretary General Selection Process: 11 states
• ECOSOC Reform: 2 states
• Human Rights Council Reform: 4 states
• Peacekeeping Reform: 20 states
• Peacebuilding Reform: 10 states

*If you feel that we have misrepresented your country’s statement in any way please contact us at