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UK UN envoy Matthew Rycroft: Main challenge the UN faces today is one of relevance

UK's permanent representative at the UN said there are too many big issues in the world today where division among the Security Council has prevented the organization from taking action
Matthew Rycroft AP Photo/Seth Wenig
Matthew Rycroft
© AP Photo/Seth Wenig


Ahead of the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly, Permanent Representative of the UK at the United Nations Matthew Rycroft in an interview with TASS dwells on the challenges the international organization is facing today.

- What's the most significant Security Council resolution in the history of the United Nations, to your opinion? Are there any decisions or vetoes by the United Kingdom that you regret?

- For me, the most significant resolution is still UNSCR 242, which set the framework for peace between Israel and Palestine back in 1967.  I hope it can finally be implemented as soon as possible. On vetoes, the UK hasn’t vetoed since 1989.  

Each veto comes with a price and some vetoes have damaged the reputation and standing of the vetoing country.

- What would you say needs to be reformed at the UN, are any changes to veto power possible?

- The United Kingdom is committed to UN reform. On my first day in the UN, I launched a British initiative to improve the process of selecting and appointing the next Secretary-General. We want to see more transparency, more structure and more inclusion in the process. We also believe that with all qualifications being equal that it is high time for woman to lead the UN. We want to see a clear deadline for applications and a clear criteria for the job. We also want to give all members of the UN, and non-governmental organisations, a chance to scrutinise candidates in a UNSC meeting. Through these steps, we can help secure the best candidate for one of the most important jobs in the world.

In addition, the United Kingdom is playing an important role in making the UN more effective and efficient, including through management reform. On the veto, we support the principle of the French initiative - we do not envisage a situation where the UK would use its veto to block action in response to a mass atrocity. 

Implementation, with support of the other five permanent members of the Security Council, remains an unresolved question.

- Are UN sanctions helpful and effective or not?

- Sanctions are important, but they are not an end in themselves. We have to use sanctions smartly to make sure they are effective. You need only look at the successful agreement of the Iran nuclear talks to see that sanctions can play a crucial role in bringing parties together for negotiation. But, on Iran and elsewhere, the most important thing is actually delivering in those negotiations, and implementing the agreements reached..

- Does the relationship among the UNSC Ambassadors have any effect on the outcomes of the votings?

I’ve been struck by the strong working relationships between Permanent Representatives of the UNSC. But there are clear issues where we disagree, often vocally, and sometimes through the veto. However, I believe that all Council members approach each issue individually. We don’t allow our disagreements to affect areas where we do agree - the issues that unite are us are more numerous than those that divide us.

- Can you name the most remarkable person you’ve met at the United Nations 

I’ve only been here 3 months and every day I meet extraordinary people, from the team I work with in the UK Mission, to my colleagues in the Security Council and General Assembly, to the UN staff headed by the Secretary-General.  But if I can only pick one, I will choose Hawa Salih, an activist from Darfur who spoke at the UN in June.  She addressed an informal Security Council meeting very movingly. Informal meetings are powerful as they give us a connection with real people who suffer through the conflicts and tragedies we work so hard to resolve. Individual stories are more powerful than statistics sometimes!

- What are the main challenges the UN is facing today? Can you name any Are there any issues off the United Nations' radar that need to be addressed?

The main challenge that the UN faces today is one of relevance. There are too many big issues in the world today - Syria, Ukraine, the Middle East Peace Process - where division among the Security Council has stopped us from taking action. 

This has led to the continued suffering of innocent people, and to some people questioning the value of the UN’s work. But I believe that there is much more that unites the Security Council than divides it, and I hope that we can demonstrate this during my time in New York.

One area where we can do so is on the Sustainable Development Goals, to be agreed in September this year. This a real chance to set the targets and goals needed to eradicate extreme poverty and set the development agenda for the next 15 years. We believe that in doing so, we must adopt the principle of leaving no one behind. This means that no target or goal can be met until it has been met for all groups in society - whether women, the elderly or the LGBT community.​