10/19/2012 08:46 am ET Updated Dec 19, 2012

Nations Compete for UN Security Council Seats; Rwanda Provides Drama

Australia, Argentina, Luxembourg, South Korea... and Rwanda won seats on the UN Security Council for a two-year term. Rwanda provided the drama because its election came after charges it was stoking a rebellion in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Despite a litany of complaints about the 15-nation Security Council, the annual election is often hotly contested, with foreign ministers for most contenders flying to New York to lobby. Africa rotates its candidates and this year selected Rwanda without any opposition. So did Latin America, which chose Argentina. The Asian group and Western nations had competitive races.

The politics of the Security Council will not have changed appreciably -- except for discussions on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and its large UN peacekeeping force. And Argentina may raise its dispute with Britain over the Falkland (Malvinas) Islands.

But back to Rwanda, which had to win two-thirds of the vote in the 193-nation General Assembly. It got 148 votes (Argentina received 182 votes). Before the vote, the Congolese delegate called Rwanda an "oasis for peace for criminals" operating in eastern DRC. The move, which failed, was an attempt to deny Rwanda the needed 129 votes on the first ballet.

Pillaging minerals
In a report by the Security Council's "Group of Experts" Rwanda and Uganda were accused of supporting M23 rebels in their six-month fight against Congolese government troops in an effort to cart off lucrative minerals. Both nations have denied it.

The report was leaked to Reuters and follows a UN report published in June that accused Rwanda of supporting the insurgency. A decade ago another UN report detailed the plunder of minerals by Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Congolese officials. Natural resources were the main attraction of the region when the Belgians first colonized it, persecuted the population and drew contentious borders.

Rwanda's Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo complained about the timing of the leak, two days ahead of Thursday's Security Council elections, saying it was "unfortunate but ... not surprising."

She said the lead writer of the report was biased and ideological. But she sought to assure Council members that Rwanda, which has sent peacekeepers to Darfur, South Sudan Liberia and Haiti, would behave responsibly. "I believe the Democratic Republic of Congo should see Rwanda on the Security Council as value addition," the foreign minister said.

Philip Parham, Britain's deputy U.N. ambassador, seemed to agree, telling reporters: "Rwanda will bring to the Council the particular perspective of a country that has overcome serious conflict and has done so more successfully than many."

Still, Philippe Bolopion of the New York-based Human Rights Watch said Rwanda was given a seat at the table "after blatantly violating the Security Council's arms embargo and undermining the work of the UN by propping up abusive M23 rebels. Kigali is now in a position to try to shield its own officials implicated in abuses from UN sanctions, which is a flagrant conflict of interest."

The rebels say the Congolese government -- presiding over a dysfunctional state that is still struggling to emerge from a decade and a half of conflict -- is as much to blame for the fighting as they are. The rebels also are known for mass rapes and theft from villagers. The Congolese government has called for Security Council sanctions against Rwanda and Uganda but the most immediate concern is a loss of foreign aid.

Rwanda's former Hutu government had a seat on the Security Council in 1994-5 during the genocide, led by Hutu extremists that killed some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. (Its delegates then kept a low profile). The minority Tutsi- led army fought its way to power, prompting thousands of Hutus to flee to the Congo. While Rwanda has no veto power on the Security Council, it can delay statements and reports that call for approval by all 15 members.

Argentina and las Malvinas
Although the future of the Falkland Islands, called the Malvinas by Argentina, is not a Security Council issue, the topic may be raised there. The UN General Assembly has passed a resolution calling for Britain and Argentina to return to negotiations over the Islands' future. Britain has ruled out any talks over the island's sovereignty, arguing that the Falklanders want to remain with London.

Argentine Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman hinted his delegation would not ignore the controversy, telling journalist Javier Borelli of Tiempo Argentino that it was the obligation of all UN members to abide by resolutions, especially those who serve on the Security Council.

But Britain's Parham said he doubted the issue would gain traction in the Council. "I think the Security Council has a large agenda of serious and pressing issues of international peace and security. We don't see any appetite among other Council members to have that issue raised in the Council."

So why do we care?
The Security Council is the most powerful UN body, whose decisions on peacekeeping or sanctions are binding on all UN members. It has five permanent members with veto power - the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France and 10 elected members that rotate for two year terms, five each year.

Australia, Argentina, Luxembourg, Rwanda and South Korea join Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Morocco, Pakistan and Togo. Leaving the Council are Germany, India, South Africa, Portugal and Colombia, all of whom have articulate ambassadors that are favourites with the press.

As usual there was a contest among the western nations with Australia and Luxembourg edging out Finland. In Asia, South Korea beat Bhutan and Cambodia.

Politically, the new Council has will not be more polarized next year than it is now over such issues as Syria. But criticisms of its permanent members -- known as the World War II victors -- as unrepresentative continue. The main reason for not enlarging the Council is that General Assembly members cannot agree on how to do it with each potential contender amassing opponents. And the African Union has proposed a large expansion many consider unrealistic.