November 2012 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 November 2012
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Working Methods

Expected Council Action

Late in November the Council will hold an open debate on its working methods. The Chair of the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions, Ambassador José Filipe Moraes Cabral (Portugal), will brief.

India and Portugal will jointly prepare a concept note; no outcome is expected.

Key Recent Developments

The upcoming debate will be the fifth Council working methods debate in UN history. (Previous debates were held in 1994, 2008, 2010 and 2011.) The increased frequency in recent years is indicative of the sustained interest on the part of member states in this matter.

Speakers in the 2011 debate made numerous recommendations on possible modifications of working methods and practices of the Council. In what was itself a rare working method, at the end of the debate, the Council President that month—Ambassador Cabral—provided a summary of the discussions, highlighting key recommendations made. He praised work done on working methods within the Council, in particular by Japan, reflected in Notes by the President of the Council S/2006/507 and S/2010/507 (see SCR’s “In Hindsight: The Working Methods Open Debate” in the January 2012 Forecast).

Ambassador Cabral also recognised the work of the group known as the Small Five (S-5), comprising Costa Rica, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Singapore and Switzerland, in presenting the Council “with useful thoughts and proposals” aimed at improving its working methods. He stressed that the Council needed to intensify its commitment to monitoring the implementation of the newly agreed practices and assess their impact on the goals of enhanced transparency, efficiency and interaction with the UN membership.

As of 1 January 2012, Portugal assumed the chairmanship of the Informal Working Group. Throughout the year, the Working Group has been meeting on average once a month. One of its tasks has been analysing a matrix of proposals made during the last open debate.

In March (during the UK presidency), members held ambassadorial-level consultations to discuss working methods related to improving management of the Council programme and sessions. A non-paper prepared jointly by Portugal and the UK to facilitate the discussion outlined the key areas: periodicity (to spread mandate renewals more evenly throughout the year avoiding spikes in the Council’s work); conference resources (better planning of the meetings throughout the month aimed at financial savings); and interactivity (aiming at less recourse to speakers’ lists in consultations to achieve more informality, as well as increased use of videoconferencing to maintain closer contact with missions in the field). On 5 June, the Council issued a Note by the President expressing members’ commitment to several efficiency-enhancing measures (S/2012/402).

Over the past several months, the Working Group has been addressing other issues, including:

  • the process of appointing the chairs of the Council’s subsidiary bodies;
  • the issue of pen-holders in drafting resolutions;
  • management of open debates (including the speakers’ order);
  • the process of drafting of the annual report to the General Assembly, as well as the monthly assessment of the work and informal briefings for membership at large by the President of the Council.

A Note by the President on some of these issues was under silence procedure at the time of writing.

The S-5, after several years of concerted work on working methods of particular concern, tabled a draft resolution (A/66/L.42/Rev.2) during the 66th session of the General Assembly. The draft acknowledged the significant steps already taken by the Council to improve its working methods, but emphasised the need for additional measures aimed at enhancing its accountability, transparency and effectiveness and included 20 recommendations to that effect.

In the weeks leading up to the scheduled 16 May vote, the S-5 came under pressure, primarily from the P5, to withdraw the draft. On 14 May, responding to a letter from the President of the General Assembly asking for advice as to the majority requirement for the adoption of the S-5 proposal, the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs issued an opinion suggesting that a two-thirds majority would be needed. Heeding numerous submissions to defer action, the S-5 withdrew the draft to avoid a procedurally contentious discussion in the Assembly that in their view would have been inevitable. Speaking on behalf of the S-5, Ambassador Paul Seger (Switzerland) expressed hopes that the Council would intensify its efforts within the framework of the Working Group to improve its working methods. He said that the S-5 had listened carefully to the permanent members’ statements that they were “ready to consider our recommendations seriously, and we hold them to their promise, with the Assembly as witness.”

Key Issues

A key issue for Council members is whether they will be willing and able to maintain the momentum that has emerged in 2012 on working methods.

A related issue—should the Council continue its increased activity on working methods—is what key areas it should next focus on.

An issue for the membership at large is whether and in what way to continue engaging the Council from outside on working methods.

A related issue is tension that exists between Article 30 of the UN Charter, which states that the Council shall adopt its procedure, and Article 10, which states that the Assembly may make recommendations to the Council on its powers and functions.

Council and Wider Dynamics

Elected Council members have in recent years taken the lead on working methods (the debates in 20082010 and 2011 were initiated by Belgium, Japan and Portugal, respectively). However, by virtue of their continuous presence on the Council, the permanent members have had the most prominent role in shaping the Council’s working methods. Most tend to argue that the Council alone should be the engine of any change in its working methods and are opposed to the involvement of other UN bodies in the matter.

The lead on working methods, at least nominally, is the elected member chairing the Working Group. In practice, this depends on the level of interest and energy on the part of the delegation chairing the subsidiary body. The current chair, Portugal, leaves the Council at the end of 2012 and the dynamics will likely change depending on who succeeds it.

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UN Documents

Notes by the President of the Security Council  
5 June 2012 S/2012/402 This note expressed members’ commitment to several efficiency-enhancing working methods modifications.
26 July 2010 S/2010/507 This was a note which focused on enhancing Council transparency, as well as interaction and dialogue with non-Council members.
19 July 2006 S/2006/507 This note described the outcome of the six months of work of the Informal Working Group in 2006 under the leadership of Japan.
Security Council Meeting Records  
30 November 2011 S/PV.6672 An open debate on working methods presided by Portugal on the Implementation of the note by the President of the Security Council (S/2010/507).
22 April 2010 S/PV.6300 An open debate on working methods presided by Japan.
22 April 2010 S/PV.6300 (Resumption 1) The resumption of an open debate on working methods presided by Japan.
27 August 2008 S/PV.5968 An open debate on working methods presided by Belgium.
27 August 2008 S/PV.5968 (Resumption 1) The resumption of an open debate on working methods presided by Belgium.
16 December 1994 S/PV.3483 This was the first open debate on Security Council working methods presided by Rwanda.
General Assembly Documents  
16 May 2012 A/66/PV.108 This was the meeting of the General Assembly in which the S-5 withdrew its draft resolution on working methods.
15 May 2012 A/66/L.42/Rev.2 This was the revised draft General Assembly resolution on Security Council working methods put forward by the S-5.

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