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In the spring of 1945, Belgian diplomats were present for the drafting of the original Charter of the United Nations in San Francisco. On the 26th of June, Belgium officially joined the Organization along with fifty other founding members.
The First Session of the General Assembly was held in London in 1946, where two Ministers of Foreign Affairs competed for the chairmanship of this noble hemicycle: the Norwegian Trygve Halvdan Lie and former Belgian Prime Minister Paul-Henri Spaak. In the end, our candidate was elected as the first President of the General Assembly and Lie was named Secretary-General.
In the autumn of 1946, during its Second Session at Flushing Meadows in Queens, the General Assembly chose New York as the permanent seat of the Organization. Three years later, its headquarters were built on the Manhattan bank of the East River. The design of the building complex was assigned to an international team of eleven renowned architects, working under the supervision of the American Wallace K. Harrison, and including Le Corbusier (France-Switzerland), Oskar Niemeyer (Brazil) and the Belgian Gaston Brunfaut.
As a sign of its ambition, Belgium was elected for the first time as a non-permanent member of the Security Council already in 1947. To date, Belgium has filled this seat on six occasions. Belgium has also been elected three times already as a member of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Today, Belgium pays 0.82% of the UN budget and ranks 22nd in the list of contributors (combining the regular budget, peacekeeping operations and International Tribunals). Beyond these mandatory contributions, the Belgian Development Cooperation is known for its consistent core funding of UN organizations and assigns a significant part of its aid to the least developed countries (LDCs).
Belgium has been involved in peacekeeping operations (PKO’s) since 1948. Our first intervention took place in Kashmir (1949), followed by a large operation in Korea (1950). In the following decades, Belgium would not partake in any PKO’s until the operations in Somalia (UNOSOM), in the former Yugoslavia (UNPROFOR/UNTAES), and in Rwanda (UNAMIR) in the 1990’s. In Rwanda, ten Belgian blue helmets were killed, which led to a temporary hold on Belgium’s participation in peacekeeping operations. In recent years, the Belgian military has deployed blue helmets in Sudan (UNMIS), Lebanon (UNIFIL), the Middle East (UNTSO), Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and Mali (MINUSMA). They have also been dispatched as part of UN-mandated coalitions such as ISAF in Afghanistan. When participating in peacekeeping missions, Belgium lays the focus on excellence. The limited size of our armed forces means we cannot send large contingents everywhere. However, by providing strategic medical and aerial capabilities as well as by assuming command, observation and liaison duties, we endeavor all the same to respond whenever possible to crisis situations around the world. In recent years we have made more and more use of civil tools (police, civil protection, courts) for crisis management.
Multilateralism being part of our diplomatic DNA, Belgians have never hesitated to take up responsibilities within the UN family. Throughout its history, Belgian Ambassadors chaired different committees at the General Assembly. Also in the Secretariat, several compatriots served in important positions, such as Professor Eric Suy, who was Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and United Nations Legal Counsel, and subsequently Director-General of the UN Office in Geneva (1974 – 1987), former Belgian Minister Michel Hansenne (Director-General of the International Labour Organization from 1989 to 1999), Peter Piot, who was the first UNAIDS Executive Director, (from 1995 to 2008), Ambassador Johan Verbeke, who was Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Georgia (2009) or former minister Isabelle Durant who served as Deputy SG of UNCTAD until 2021, just to name a few.
Belgians who currently hold high-profile functions in the UN-system include:
- Mr. Philippe Gautier, who was elected Registrar of the International Court of Justice for a term of seven years, effective 1 August 2019. He followed in the footsteps of another Belgian, Philippe Couvreur, who served as ICJ Registrar from 2000 until 2019.
- Our former National Prosecutor Serge Brammertz took on the role as Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia until its closure at the end of 2017, after which he started serving as Chief Prosecutor of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals.
- Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge began his term as WHO Regional Director for Europe on 1 February 2020, following his nomination by the WHO Regional Committee for Europe and appointment by the WHO Executive Board.
- Professor Olivier De Schutter served as Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food at the Human Rights Council from 2008 until 2015 and as an independent expert on the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR). He was appointed as the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights by the Human Rights Council at its 43rd session, in March 2020.
- Benoit Van Keirsbilck was the first Belgian to be elected as a member of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), serving for a term from 1 March 2021 until 28 February 2025.
- Professor Catherine Van de Heyning was elected by the Human Rights Council to serve in her personal capacity on the Advisory Committee of the Human Rights Council until 30 September 2023. The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee functions as a think-tank for the Council.
- Since 2009, Daniel Fransen serves as an International Judge (Pre-Trial Judge) at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.