The United Nations (UN) is an international organisation founded in 1945. Belgium is one of the 51 founding members of the organisation, which today has 193 member states. The mission and activities of the United Nations are guided by the objectives and principles laid down in its founding treaty: the UN Charter.
Its internationally unique status and the powers conferred on it by the Charter allow it to take action to address many of the major challenges facing humanity in the 21st century. These include peace and security, climate change, sustainable development, human rights, disarmament, terrorism, humanitarian disasters, health crises, the promotion of gender equality and food security.
The United Nations also has an important function as a forum. Members can express their views in the General Assembly, the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council, as well as in many other bodies and commissions covered by the UN system. The organisation allows for a global dialogue that enables member states to reach agreement and to solve problems together.
The United Nations is headed by the Secretary-General. Since January 2017, this has been António Guterres from Portugal. In June 2021, he was appointed by the General Assembly for a second term.
The United Nations is headquartered in New York, but also has a strong presence in Addis Ababa, Bangkok, Beirut, Geneva, Nairobi, Rome, Santiago and Vienna, and has offices all over the world. The organisation has six official languages, these being Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.
You can find more information on the United Nations here.
Belgian UN policy
Belgium is an ardent defender of the principles of multilateralism, which is part of our diplomatic DNA. In a world where countries are becoming more and more dependent and societies are more interconnected than ever, international cooperation is an absolute necessity. Multilateralism is crucial for international stability, stronger democracy and greater well-being for all. The United Nations plays a decisive role in this.
The objectives of Belgian foreign and development policy are aligned with those of the United Nations and its specialised programmes, funds and agencies. In that respect, our country champions sustainable and predictable financial contributions and is focused on major political involvement in the UN system. For example, Belgium took up a seat as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in the 2019-2020 period for the sixth time in its history.
Socio-economically, our country advocates efficient and inclusive multilateralism. Together with the international community, Belgium is making every effort to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and supports the efforts of the United Nations to promote human rights. Accordingly, our country is a candidate for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council for the 2023-2025 period. Since the establishment of this body in 2006, Belgium has been a member twice: from 2009 to 2012 and from 2016 to 2018.
Belgium's multilateral policy is in line with that of the EU. For example, our country endorses the Conclusions on EU action to strengthen rules-based multilateralism, as adopted by the Council of the European Union on 17 June 2019 and reinforced with a Joint Communication in early 2021. In these Council conclusions, the EU advocates an effective, relevant and resilient multilateral system that remains faithful to the rules and principles of the UN Charter.
Multilateralism, with the United Nations at its core, is the cornerstone of the EU's external policy. As the largest collective financial contributor, the EU and its Member States play an important role in setting the multilateral agenda. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the EU has been holding out the prospect of ever greater and more intense multilateral collaboration.
Like the EU, Belgium supports the necessary modernisation of the United Nations and advocates reforms that make the organisation more effective, transparent, democratic, representative and accountable. To this end, improved working methods in the General Assembly and Security Council reforms will be essential. Belgium also aims to strengthen coordination between the three major areas in which the United Nations is active, namely peace and security, sustainable development and human rights.
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Belgium in the UN Security Council
In 2019-2020, Belgium took up a seat as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the sixth time. In February 2020, our country assumed the chairmanship of this body. During its previous mandates (1947-1948, 1955-1956, 1971-1972, 1991-1992 and 2007-2008), Belgium always advocated strong multilateralism. In doing so, our country characterised itself as a bridge-builder, focusing on continuity, compromise, a broad concept of security (including humanitarian aspects and human rights), compliance with international law, and European coordination.
During its past mandate on the Security Council, Belgium once again expressed the multilateral vision on which our foreign policy has been based since the end of the Second World War. Our country endeavoured to make a substantial contribution to the debates on all major international issues dealt with by the Security Council, with its own emphasis on reflecting our values and specific expertise. Under the motto ‘Forging consensus, building peace’, Belgium focused on its traditional role as a mediator.
During its 2019-2020 mandate, Belgium demonstrated particular regard to themes in which it has been investing for a long time:
- Prevention: preventing international conflicts through mediation forms an essential part of Belgian foreign policy. The threat posed by climate change to international peace and security and the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction were among its priorities during its past mandate.
- Protection: our country aimed to put the protection of children in armed conflicts, access to humanitarian aid, and the fight against impunity high on the international agenda. In the Security Council, Belgium chaired the Children and Armed Conflict working group.
- Efficiency: our country endeavoured to achieve more effective operational management of United Nations missions. In this context, Belgium supports the Secretary-General's reform initiatives, such as ‘Action for Peacekeeping’.
Our country also tried to ensure that the EU countries in the Security Council act as a bloc more often. Another priority for Belgium was greater unanimity between the ten elected non-permanent members of the Security Council, known as the ‘E10’ or ‘elected 10’.
Belgium played a leading role in a number of cases. Our country was a co-penholder of the dossier on the humanitarian situation in Syria and on UNOWAS, the UN office for conflict prevention in West Africa and the Sahel. Belgium also acted as a facilitator for Resolution 2231, which put an end to the UN sanctions regime against Iran under the nuclear agreement (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPoA). Finally, our country chaired the Somalia Sanctions Committee and served as a focal point for the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The fact that, compared with other countries of a similar size, Belgium is often elected to sit on the Security Council is proof of the trust placed in this country by the international community. Within the framework of Benelux cooperation, Belgium has also made its expertise available in the past by seconding diplomats when the Netherlands or Luxembourg were on the Security Council. Conversely, Belgium can also count on the support of the Benelux partners during its mandates.
You can find more information on the functioning of the Security Council here.