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A historic first: UNGA President calls for text-based UNSC reform talks

In a first, the President of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), Abdulla Shahid, has advocated for formalisation or ‘text-based talks’ on UN Security Council changes (UNSC). So far, no UNGA president has directly highlighted text-based talks in such unambiguous terms when it comes to the main UN body’s changes, which last experienced a substantial enlargement in 1965.

In his presentation to the inter-governmental negotiations (ING) meeting on Tuesday, Abdulla Shahid stated, ‘Would encourage the delegations to work relentlessly to further reduce the divergences and progressively take the process into text-based discussions’.  What is notable this time is that his letter, for the first time since the IGN’s inception, places a major focus on the process of ‘gradually moving’ to ‘text-based negotiations using the Co-Chairs Elements Paper and the Framework Document of 2015’.

The Intergovernmental Negotiations Framework (IGN) is a United Nations body that investigates UN Security Council changes but has made no meaningful progress since its formation in 2009. Because there is no one text, the group’s discussions are considered ‘informal,’ and so UNGA norms of process do not apply. However, in 2015, a framework agreement on reform was agreed upon, which would serve as the foundation for future discussions.

The IGN concluded the 76th session with all member states agreeing to the UNGA President’s oral decision to roll the text over to the next session. During his speech, he emphasised the importance of ‘making the Security Council efficient, effective, representative, and responsible,’ and that member nation had a ‘collective  responsibility to demonstrate that the IGN is working and not let the process turn into a Sisyphean exercise.’

President Abdulla further stated that there is ‘no permanent representation for the whole African continent’ and emphasised the importance of a ‘complete reference to the Common African Position’.  India has always supported the Common African Position, as articulated in the Ezulwini Consensus and the Sirte Declaration. The Ezulwini Consensus and the Sirte Declaration both urge for African nations to be awarded at least two permanent UNSC seats and two to five non-permanent UNSC seats at the high table.

Naturally, the move is welcome news for India, which has long advocated for text-based reform dialogues that would lead to more meaningful reform discussions. India, Japan, Germany, and Brazil, all members of the G4, have been advocating for urgent UN reforms. The coffee group of Uniting for Consensus (UFC) group, led by Italy has Pakistan, Turkey as its members and aims to counter bids by the G4 countries.

Interestingly, China, Pakistan, Italy, South Korea and Iran in their interventions targeted President Abdulla for calling for text-based negotiations. China’s envoy to UN Ambassador Zhang Jun in his intervention said that letter circulating the oral decision was a clear break from the past. The letter to member states appears to have unruffled the calculations of these delegations with some of them plainly mentioning that the membership is not ready for text-based negotiation. In effect, it has made it clear who is in favour of reforms and who is against.


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