In Hindsight: Security Council Visiting Missions
A visiting mission has been a tool the Council has used—since it first travelled to Cambodia and Viet Nam in 1964—for a number of purposes, including preventive diplomacy, gathering first-hand information, supporting peace processes and mediation. Through 1992, the Council undertook fewer than a dozen missions. There is little guidance regarding Council traveling missions in the Charter or the Provisional Rules of Procedure. Missions have been deployed under the broad powers granted by Article 29 of the UN Charter, according to which the Council “may establish such subsidiary organs as it deems necessary for the performance of its functions”. An examination of the Council’s 43 missions since 1993 reveals a rich body of practices and working methods to pursue a wide range of goals and purposes.
The 22-27 April 1993 mission to the war-torn former Yugoslavia comprised visits to several locations, including Sarajevo and Srebrenica. It was initiated and presided by Ambassador Diego Arria (Venezuela) and also included France, Hungary, Pakistan and Russia. The broad mandate of the mission, set out in resolution 819, was fact-finding and reporting back to the Council, while the terms of reference were left to the delegation itself. The process was remarkably fast: resolution 819 was adopted on 16 April, the visiting mission took place from 22-27 April and its 19-page mission report was issued on 30 April.
The next six missions, undertaken in 1994 and 1995, were all to Africa and led, with one exception, by African Council members and included between four and nine Council members. The intention to undertake the 7-12 August 1994 trip to Mozambique, in support of the implementation of a peace agreement, was first signalled in a presidential statement and subsequently agreed in consultations. While the delegation was already travelling in Africa, the Council, during consultations, decided to deploy four of its members to Burundi, a country experiencing a serious crisis following the death of its president, Cyprien Ntaryamira, whose plane was shot down over Kigali, Rwanda, on 6 April 1994. The Council followed up on this trip with a 10-13 February 1995 mission to Burundi and Rwanda, with Ambassador Ibrahim Gambari (Nigeria) in the lead. Among the trip’s purposes was to convey support for the governments and for the processes of national reconciliation and signal rejection of all attempts to destabilise the region. In Rwanda the mission focused also on the problem of refugees and on issues of justice and accountability. The other trips in this period were a 26-27 October 1994 visit to Somalia to address the future of the UN presence there, and a 3-9 June 1995 mission to Western Sahara seeking to accelerate the implementation of the settlement plan.
The next trip, the 8-12 September 1999 mission to Indonesia and East Timor, shows the Council acting quickly and effectively. In light of the widespread violence following the results of the Council-authorised referendum in which East Timor overwhelmingly opted for independence from Indonesia, a five-member delegation was dispatched to stress to Indonesia that the will of the Timorese must be respected and that the international community looked forward to working with the government of Indonesia in bringing East Timor to independence. The delegation visited the devastated and still not entirely calm capital of East Timor, Dili, and while in Jakarta, also met with Xanana Gusmão, the resistance leader and future president of Timor-Leste, who at the time was serving a 20-year prison sentence. The Council dispatched a second visiting mission on 9-17 November 2000 to review progress.
The US became the first permanent member to lead a mission with the 4-8 May 2000 trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Eritrea and Ethiopia. The UK followed suit with the 7-14 October 2000 trip to Sierra Leone, while France did so with the 15-26 May 2001 trip to the DRC and Burundi. The 16-18 June 2001 trip to Kosovo led by Bangladesh was the first in which all 15 members participated, a practice that since became the norm with some exceptions, as when the Council has dispatched so-called mini-missions or when Russia did not participate in the 20-29 June 2004 trip to West Africa. On one occasion, the chairman of the Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations, Ambassador Kenzo Oshima (Japan), was dispatched to Ethiopia and Eritrea on 6-9 November 2005 in an effort to salvage the peacekeeping operation there. There have also been two joint missions undertaken with subsidiary bodies of the ECOSOC, the 27-28 June 2003 mission to Guinea-Bissau and the 13-16 April 2005 mission to Haiti. There have also been missions involving multiple destinations with different leads for different segments, following on the example set during the 26 June to 5 July 2003 trip to West Africa co-led by the UK and Mexico.
For several years the Council made a point of visiting situations of high concern repeatedly. Such was the case with Burundi (1994, 1995, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005), Rwanda (1995, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2009), East Timor (1999, 2000, 2007, 2012), Kosovo (2000, 2001, 2002, 2007), Liberia (2003, 2004, 2009, 2012) and Sierra Leone (2000, 2003, 2004, 2012). The situation with the most Council visits is the DRC. Between 2000 and 2010, the Council visited the DRC every year, yet the Council has not returned since its 13-16 May 2010 mission.
An emerging pattern in recent years has to do with timing. In the first several years it seems that the decision to undertake the mission, the actual trip and the subsequent publication of the mission’s report happened in quick succession. The reports, in particular, were literally written on the flight back and were published within days of the return to New York. More recently, the whole process tends to be less efficient, with some mission reports coming out a year or more after the trip.
Overall, however, the variety and changeability of the missions over the years suggest that this remains a very flexible tool for the Council, and that it is up to the creativity of the lead(s) as to how to get the most value added from the missions.