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Islamic Nations Eye UN Security Council Seats

Patrick Goodenough | International Editor | Monday, June 23, 2008

Islamic Nations Eye UN Security Council Seats

(CNSNews.com) - Islamic nations should be represented in an expanded U.N. Security Council "in proportion to their membership of the United Nations," according to foreign ministers of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

In a resolution passed at a meeting in Uganda last week, the ministers pointed to size of the Islamic bloc in the international community, noting that its members make up "one-fifth of the world population."

Any proposal to reform and enlarge the U.N. Security Council "which neglects the adequate representation of the Islamic Ummah [community] in any category of membership ... will not be acceptable to the Islamic World," they said.

"The OIC's demand for adequate representation in the Security Council is in keeping with the significant demographic and political weight of the OIC member states."

The Security Council currently has five permanent, veto-wielding members -- the U.S., Britain, France, China and Russia -- and 10 non-permanent members that serve for two-year periods. Various proposals under consideration to reform the institution include expanding it to have more seats in both categories, earmarked for various geographic regions.

One model suggested by an expert panel appointed by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, for instance, would establish six new permanent seats - two each for Africa and Asia, and one each for Europe and the Americas.

An alternative model discussed by the panel would add no permanent seats, but create a new, semi-permanent tier of eight seats -- two each from Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas, occupied for four-year stints, and subject to renewal.

Neither of the models put forward envisages seats earmarked for non-geographic groups, such as a bloc of Islamic nations.

The resolution passed in Uganda leaves unstated exactly how many seats in an expanded Security Council the OIC would want set aside for Islamic states, but to satisfy the demand of being represented "in proportion to their membership of the United Nations," it could arguably press for 30 percent of the seats. (Of the 192 U.N. member-states, 56 are OIC members. An independent Palestinian state would push the number up to 57.)

The bloc, which has been in existence since the 1970s, in recent years has come to wield increasing clout in the international community. In U.N. agencies where it holds significant membership, critics have accused it of trying to promote Islamic interests at the expense of broader ones.

At the Human Rights Council, for instance, they charge that the OIC has protected allies, ganged up against Israel, and pushed measures limiting freedom of expression when it comes to criticizing Islam. Free speech advocacy groups in recent months have publicly voiced concern about the OIC's growing influence in the U.N.'s top human rights watchdog.

The OIC enjoys a built-in advantage at the Human Rights Council because more than half of the body's seats are reserved for the African and Asian regional groups, home to most Islamic states. Of the current council members, a full one-third are OIC members.

At the OIC meeting in Uganda, the foreign ministers reaffirmed that OIC member states should use their membership in key U.N. bodies like the Human Rights Council "to protect and promote the interests of the Islamic world."

Much of the OIC's expanded role in international affairs has come about as a result of a "new vision" initiative outlined in a 10-year program of action adopted in 2005 which calls on member states to coordinate effectively in all regional and international forums to protect and promote their collective interests.

OIC secretary-general Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu updated the Uganda gathering on other achievements in expanding the group's influence, including the establishment last year of an OIC ambassadors' group in Washington, D.C., and plans to open a mission in Brussels, seat of the European Union.

Last February, President Bush announced the appointment of a U.S. special envoy to the OIC. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice the following month named the envoy as Sada Cumber, a Pakistan-born Texas businessman.

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