10/11/2014 07:15 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

October 16: A UN Vote to Watch

On August 30 I wrote about an upcoming election at the UN General Assembly to determine two of the non-permanent seats reserved for the so-called "Western Group" of countries in the Security Council. Angola, Malaysia and Venezuela are also on the race for their respective regions and are running unopposed.

The election, which will take place at the UN on October 16, will decide for the Western Group of countries, between Spain, Turkey and New Zealand, two non-permanent seats on the Council.


The UN Security Council is the only UN body with real power and may influence positively the course of events when the 15 members agree on a course of action. In 1999 the Council acted swiftly and effectively in ending widespread violence and destruction in my country.

Today Timor-Leste is at peace and for the past eight years it has been posting double digit economic growth. My country has just contributed $2 million towards fighting the Ebola pandemic in West Africa and between 2013 and 2014 we have contributed $12 million for peace and stability in Guinea-Bissau.

Currently three out of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council are members of NATO. Two more NATO member countries, tiny Luxembourg and Lithuania, hold non-permanent seats.

Should Spain and Turkey squeeze out New Zealand (population 4 million) and take the two open non-permanent seats, this would mean seven seats on the UN Security Council will be held by NATO members.

A certain level of partnership between the UN and NATO is critical as NATO has vast resources that no other group of countries possess. This partnership has been enhanced since the early 1990s and was strengthened by NATO's 2010 Strategic Concept; NATO has provided valuable training and logistical support to humanitarian operations in parts of the world. But this partnership is a very delicate one as it may expose the UN to perceptions of alignment with a military bloc.

I believe it is also true that no voice or bloc should be an overpowering one on a body as the UN Security Council, charged with such responsibility over diffusing tensions, prevent conflicts, and ending wars.

As we are watching live on our televisions today, due to its perceived strategic interests and alliances, Turkey is standing by as ISIS pursues its relentless and savage attacks to conquer the Kurdish enclave of Kobani in Syria. One country's "strategic interests" do not always serve the region. One bloc's strategic interests do not always serve the world's best interests.

The voices of the small countries, with no rivals or enemies, do provide a vital perspective, one that represents the "rest of us." That perspective can be one based on simple humanity, a very much needed value when one is making sweeping decisions on international policy.

2014-10-11-rwandangenocide.jpgIn 1994-1995 (the last time New Zealand was on the the Security Council) its Permanent Representative, Ambassador Colin Keating, held the monthly rotating Presidency of the Council, as reports indicating the deteriorating situation in Rwanda were coming in. As the Rwanda genocide began to unfold (and long before that) New Zealand's UN Ambassador Colin Keating relentlessly sought the intervention of the international community to prevent, and then to end the carnage, advocating strongly for protection of the civilians and pressing for reinforcement of UN forces in Rwanda rather than withdrawal.

The U.S. was concerned about unpopularity of the move at home, after the "Black Hawk Down" incident, with Americans having watched their soldiers killed and dragged through the streets in Somalia. The Security Council was paralyzed. We know what happened next.

Still Keating is one of the few to have had the courage to come forward and apologize for the "utter failure" to stop the massacre of as many as one million Tutsi people by Rwanda's Hutu majority. This is what he said when in 2004 for he was honored in Kigali by Rwanda's Presdent Paul Kagame with one of Rwanda's highest award:

During 1994, I was the president of the United Nation Security Council, and as you know the United Nations Security Council failed... but some of us were able to speak out to advocate strongly for the UN to play a significant role in the protection of civilians who were being subjected to the Genocide. To me, that was a duty, not just for Rwandans, but something that should be done in all cases.

I come from a country, Timor-Leste, that was considered marginal in the strategic interests of the superpowers when it was invaded by our neighbor in 1975. One third of our population perished in the ensuing years, from 1975 till 1999. I believe I am qualified to say that it is critical, in a body that holds such power as the Security Council, that the voices of the small be heard.