Australia needs a vision for council

Media Releases article written on the 30 Oct 2012

Australia’s win at the United Nations Security Council was indeed a big juicy win, as Foreign Minister Bob Carr put it. But now that the initial victory celebrations are over, it’s time for Australia to set out a clear vision for its time at the UN’s top table.

With its Security Council term to last just two years, Australia has a small window of opportunity to help protect people caught up in wars and conflict. That’s why a strategy for its approach is needed, quickly.

But to make the most of its two years on the council, the Australian government also needs to bring the Australian public along with it.

This means making sure Australians understand how we can and should make a positive difference on the Security Council to help some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

People like Sudanese woman Hawa, who due to conflict in the Blue Nile region of Sudan was forced to flee her home with her newborn and family just one day after giving birth to her youngest daughter.

With her baby wrapped in a shawl, Hawa and her family walked for more than a month to reach a refugee camp in South Sudan. Hawa told my Oxfam colleagues at the camp that she never expected they would all make it.

“To run after giving birth – I was suffering,” she said. “I could only run a tiny bit, and then I had to rest. I was thinking, this baby is going to die. She can’t survive because of what is happening to us.” Hawa’s story is just one of many. Around the world, millions of men, women and children are forced from their homes, killed, raped or injured every year due to aimed conflict. With ordinary people suffering a disproportionate share of conflict, better protection for civilians has become a key peace and security concern for our time.

Since the tragedies of the Rwandan genocide and the Srebrenica massacre in the mid- 1990s, the Security Council has made progress in more effectively protecting civilians from threats of violence. But the council’s track record remains uneven too often, effective action is impeded by political interests or plain indifference.

The Australian government has started to lay out some of its priorities for its term on the Security Council.

These include Afghanistan, Syria, North Korea and Iran, as well controlling the spread of nuclear aims, fighting terrorism and ensuring the effectiveness of UN Security Council sanctions regimes.

The government’s focus on Syria and Afghanistan is a welcome start, but Australia has a responsibility to help protect all people affected by war and conflict.

Yes, this includes those people in places like Syria and Afghanistan that we hear about in the daily news. But it also includes the people who are suffering from violence and conflict in places that attract less global attention.

People such as the 750,000 women, men and children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo who, since January, have been forced to flee their homes due to fighting. People like the 10 million in Yemen who don’t have enough food to eat due to growing insecurity in their country.

Or those like the 1500 people every day who are killed, injured or affected by conventional arms such as pistols, machine-guns and grenades.

By using its Security Council term to focus on protecting ordinary people caught up in conflict, and helping to curb the spread of conventional arms, Australia can play a major part in improving global peace and security.

But it also needs to make sure ordinary Australians understand that we now have an extraordinary opportunity to help make the world a better, and safer place, for all.

Andrew Hewett, Executive Director, Oxfam Australia

This opinion editorial was first published in the Canberra Times on 30 October 2012.