May 2006 Monthly Forecast

Posted 27 April 2006
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Review of Security Council Mandates

At the 2005 UN World Summit last September, Heads of State called for:

  • a review by member states of all UN mandates older than five years; and
  • a report from the Secretary-General to provide analysis and recommendations in order to facilitate the review.

It is significant that the Summit Outcome Document referred not only to General Assembly mandates, but also to mandates from “other relevant organs”. This overview focuses on the mandates of the Security Council, which fall primarily into four categories:

  • peacekeeping operations,
  • international and special tribunals,
  • sanctions committees and
  • working groups.

As noted in discussions of Council subsidiary organs in prior issues of our Monthly Forecasts, the Secretariat is stretched in its capacity to service the sanctions committees and the expert teams assigned to a number of these committees.  The indications from the Secretary-General’s report seem to be that these problems are equally pronounced when other mandates are considered, such as those for peacekeeping and peacebuilding and for the international and special tribunals.

Secretary-General’s Response
In response, Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 30 March issued his report, “Mandating and delivering: analysis and recommendations to facilitate the review of mandates.” This report set out an analytical framework to guide the review of mandates by the General Assembly and other relevant organs, in particular, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the Security Council.  A registry of the mandates of the three principal organs was established on the UN website to facilitate the review process.

In his presentation of the report to the General Assembly, the Secretary-General drew attention to the large number of mandates and the limited resources available to the Secretariat in carrying them out.  Currently, there are thousands of active mandates as a result of decisions and actions of the three principal organs, and they are distributed as follows:

  • General Assembly – 79 percent
  • Economic and Social Council – 12 percent
  • Security Council – 9 percent

These mandates fall into three categories reflecting the timeframe within which the principal organs have acted on them:

  • older than five years and renewed within the last five years – 59 percent
  • older than five years and not renewed within the last five years – 19 percent
  • newer than five years – 31 percent

Need to Prioritise
In his report, the Secretary-General pointed out that the UN must choose between urgent and less urgent mandates, and highlighted a number of problems associated with the management of these mandates.

  • Burdensome reporting requirements on the part of the Secretariat, which in 2005 submitted a total of ninety written reports to the Council.  These were primarily related to UN peacekeeping missions. Also, the Secretariat had to prepare three reports on Council missions to Haiti, Central Africa, and Ethiopia and Eritrea in 2005.
  • Overlap between mandates of the Security Council with those of ECOSOC and the General Assembly, particularly on post-conflict situations during the transition from peacekeeping to peacebuilding phase.  These situations often require the Secretary-General to provide separate but duplicative reports to the Council and other organs.
  • In some cases, there is significant and burdensome overlap among mandates of the Council itself, such as is often found with its sanctions committees and, in particular, with its three counter-terrorism committees. 
  • There are gaps between mandates and resources, particularly with peacekeeping and peace-building missions.  There are currently 15 peacekeeping operations, plus another three supported by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. These engage some 88,297 military and civilian personnel at an annual cost of about $5.03 billion.  The oldest of these, which is also the first UN peacekeeping operation to be established in 1948, is the UN Truce Supervision Organization established to monitor Middle East ceasefires and supervise armistice agreements. 

Key Facts Relating to Council Mandates
Council-approved mandates generally fall within the UN programme priorities of the maintenance of international peace and security, in particular:

  • peacekeeping operations;
  • peace enforcement activities;
  • fact-finding missions;
  • sanctions committees and working groups, as well as other subsidiary organs such as those aimed specifically at combating international terrorism; and
  • promotion of justice and international law, including the establishment of international tribunals and special courts, including the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and the proposed tribunal for Lebanon.

All told, the Council has a total of 865 active mandates requiring inputs from the Secretariat; of these:

  • 313 are older than five years and renewed within the last five years;
  • 47 are older than five years and not renewed within the last five years; and
  • 505 are newer than five years.

In 2005, there were 71 Council mandates established by resolutions another 68 by presidential statements. Council resolutions generally require action by the Secretariat to implement them or to support their implementation.  They also require regular reports, including analyses and recommendations, on the programme priorities identified above.  Furthermore, the Secretariat is also required to provide periodic reports on such thematic issues as small arms, women and peace and security, protection of civilians in armed conflict, children and armed conflict, HIV/AIDS in the context of peacekeeping operations, and a number of other issues. 

Key Issues
It remains to be seen whether the Council will respond to the Summit Outcome in a systematic way and undertake a review of its mandates and take steps to ameliorate the problems identified in the Secretary-General’s report. 

If such a review were initiated there are a range of possible options which could be explored.

  • Making mandates more specific, including in the meaning and legal effect of terms used in resolutions, and avoiding ambiguity and overlap especially as between preambular and operative paragraphs. 
  • Establishing criteria for periodic review of mandates to determine whether the overall objectives and priorities of the Council and the UN as a whole in maintaining international peace and security are being met, and provide timely determination of whether a mandate’s relevance has expired.
  • Eliminating overlapping mandates, including overlapping roles of committees and working groups, and overlapping reporting requirements and duplication of work by its subsidiary organs, particularly in sanctions and counter-terrorism.  For example, the Council could explore ways to merge the three counter-terrorism subsidiary bodies (the 1267 Committee, the Counter-Terrorism Committee and the 1540 Committee) and reduce the reporting burden of which many states have complained.  In addition, there is often significant overlap in the work of the sanctions committees.
  • Eliminating the need for the Secretariat to brief both the Council and other UN organs on the same subject, in particular on issues such as small arms and other thematic issues where there is shared interest with other organs of the UN, e.g., by organising joint meetings of the Council and other bodies concerned.

Council Dynamics
Some Council members have expressed interest in how to respond to the Summit call for a review of its mandates. But so far, there has been no public collective response about the process; whether and how it will evolve; and whether the Council will establish a special working group to undertake such a review and report recommendations to guide further Council action.

It seems that for many Council members the pressure of day-to-day challenges dealing with active situations on the Council agenda leaves little or no time to stand back and reflect on more holistic issues such as mandate prioritisation.

As it becomes clearer how this issue may develop, Security Council Report will examine some of the mandates in more detail, particularly as to their relevance, effectiveness and possible duplication, and will follow and report on progress in the Council on these matters.

UN Documents

Secretary-General’s Report
  •  A/60/733 (30 March 2006) “Mandating and delivering: analysis and recommendations to facilitate the review of mandates”
Other Relevant Documents
  •  A/RES/60/1 (24 October 2005) 2005 World Summit Outcome

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