C.R. Faces Final Year on Security Council

February 20, 2009

Halfway through its two-year stint on the United Nations Security Council, Costa Rica has accomplished some of its important goals but “there’s a lot more to be done,” Jorge Urbina, Costa Rica’s Ambassador to the UN said Tuesday.

In an interview by phone from the country’s mission in New York City, Urbina, 62, told The Tico Times that Costa Rica would continue to promote its agenda of human rights, humanitarian law, the protection of civilians and greater transparency during its second and final year on the council. But, having finally mastered the council’s steep learning curve, Costa Rica will still face such hurdles as the entrenched interests of the council’s permanent five members: the United States, China, Russia, France and Britain.

“You have to learn so many things at the same time,” Urbina said, reflecting on the country’s first year, or “learning year,” as he called it, which began last January.

“As soon as you learn how to deal with the council,” he added, “you’re out.”

Compounding the learning curve was the small size of Costa Rica’s mission to the UN. While most delegations add large numbers of additional staff after winning a two-year post on the council, Costa Rica added only six, Urbina said, making its team of 14 diplomats the smallest on the 15-member council.

“We are not a very numerous mission,” the ambassador said. “We are at a disadvantage.” What the country’s delegation lacks in size, it tries to make up for in diplomatic stature, particularly in its vociferous promotion of international law and human rights.

Urbina made headlines earlier this month expressing support for a possible indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, accused of genocide, drawing the ire of the Sudanese delegation to the UN (TT, Feb. 13).

“Everybody seems to be worried” about the court’s looming decision, Urbina said, referencing Sudan’s argument, supported by the African Union and the Arab League, that an indictment would disrupt efforts to forge a permanent peace in Darfur.

“But we believe there is no dilemma,” he said. “Sustainable peace, durable peace can only be attained through justice.”

Without any embassy anywhere in Africa, Costa Rica has to rely on the work of international groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for information on the ground.

Along with Sudan, the country has worked to promote peacekeeping and conflict resolution efforts in Congo, Sudan and Rwanda.

“Costa Rica has a historical profile in this area,” Urbina, a former deputy UN ambassador and university professor, said. “If we do not have an army, we rely on international law as the only instrument that we really have.”

“Unfortunately,” he continued, human rights and international law are “not always on the agenda for other countries.”

Indeed, part of the learning curve for any country elected to a temporary term on the council is coming to grips with the power of the veto-wielding permanent five (P5) members. Urbina, who referred to the P5 as “those that really run” the council, said this was no surprise.

“We all know the power of the so-called big boys in this house,” he said.

One of the country’s first objectives to run into the P5 roadblock was the Costa Rican Consensus, a proposal by President Oscar Arias that holds that donor countries and international financial institutions should reward nations that decrease spending on military and arms and increase spending on social welfare. When asked a year ago by The Tico Times what issues he would bring to the Security Council, the Costa Rica Consensus was at the top of Urbina’s list (TT, Jan 4, 2008). But political factors, including the widespread reluctance among both donor and recipient countries to place conditions on aid, have prevented the proposal from gaining traction.

“We accomplished an important goal by putting the issue onto the table and into the agenda of the Security Council,” Urbina said. “Disarmament is not an issue for the permanent members, and the link between disarmament and development is not a link they are willing to accept.”

Bringing the issue to the table and sparking some discussion, he added, “Is probably the best you can do.”

While Costa Rica’s outspoken support for human rights and humanitarian law has often placed it at odds with newfound ally China, Urbina said disputes on the Security Council do not change relations with countries.

“Everyone knew they were electing someone who would be strong on transnational justice,” he said, referencing Costa Rica’s hard fought battle with the Dominican Republic for the seat on the council. “It hasn’t been a surprise.”

Pushing the human rights agenda, as well as continuing to increase transparency and openness on the council, will be the country’s priories in its second year, Urbina said.

“We have really accomplished important goals,” he said of recent reforms by the council to release more information to the public and open meetings to non-Security Council members. “But, of course, there’s a lot more to be done.”

 

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