December 2013 Monthly Forecast

In Hindsight: Appointment of Chairs of Subsidiary Bodies

Who will chair each of almost two dozen subsidiary bodies of the Security Council (see the insert in this Forecast on Security Council Subsidiary Bodies: An Overview) is a question on many minds this time of the year. The newly elected non-permanent members to the Council are particularly anxious to know the answer. Council sanctions committees, ad hoc committees and working groups are almost always chaired by non-permanent members, and the chairmanship of some of these bodies will demand from the missions in question considerable amounts of time and resources. For an incoming Council member, knowing which subsidiary bodies it will chair could help determine what staff expertise will be needed within its Council team in addition to allowing for better preparation on the part of the future chair. Knowing the answer before 31 December could also facilitate a more efficient transition from one chair to another.

Yet full information has almost never been available before the end of the year, and in 2000 and 2010, it has only emerged a few weeks into January (SC/6786 and S/2010/2). (That often makes the transition more difficult because permanent representatives who have served on the Council at times complete their assignment to the UN at the end of the year and are no longer in New York in January.) With all this in mind, some members have argued for making this process more transparent and efficient.

Since 1999, the President of the Security Council has issued a note after all the posts have been filled, stating that “after consultations among the members of the Council, it was agreed to elect the Chairs and Vice-Chairs of subsidiary bodies for the period ending 31 December”. For sanctions committees, the note has cited the procedure established in 1998 (S/1998/1016) whereby “the bureau of each sanctions committee shall be appointed by that committee, following consultations between Council members, either at its first meeting if that meeting takes place in January, or in writing at the instance of the Presidency of the Council under a no-objection procedure”.

In practice, it appears that this procedure has not been followed and instead the P5 have made the decisions regarding the appointment of the chairs, following informal, usually bilateral consultations with elected members. Recently, a different P5 assumes the task of coordinating the consultations, with Russia doing so this year. Individual preferences of the incoming members have been taken into account in some cases, though sometimes with an unintended result (eagerness to take on a particular subsidiary body may result in a different chair being assigned). In 2010, a new Council member decided to forego chairing a subsidiary body as a result of unhappiness with the way it was approached by the P5.

For a few years now, some Council members have been suggesting establishing a more inclusive, transparent and efficient method for the annual appointment of the chairs. In mid-2012, Portugal, as chair of the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions, started a drafting process for a note from the President to address the appointment procedure. Initial drafts called for an inclusive and transparent process to unfold during the last six weeks of the year that would involve all 15 Council members and the newly elected five, with the November and December Presidents of the Council playing a coordinating role. At that early stage, there were also suggestions that all Council members should chair subsidiary bodies as, in practice, the task has generally fallen upon the non-permanent members only. (There have been exceptions, however, with permanent members serving as initial chairs upon establishment of a new subsidiary body: the UK chaired the 1267 Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee in 1999 and the 1373 Counter-Terrorism Committee between 2001-2003; France chaired the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict between 2005-2008; and the US served as co-chair with Slovakia in 2006 of the Ad Hoc Committee on Mandate Review to conduct the review of Security Council mandates called for by the 2005 World Summit Outcome document. Furthermore, several subsidiary bodies currently have permanent members serving as vice-chairs, including Russia on the 1267 Al-Qaida Committee since 2007 and the 1988 Taliban Sanctions Committee since 2011; the UK on the 1540 Weapons of Mass Destruction Committee since 2005, and both France and Russia on the 1373 Counter-Terrorism Committee since 2008 and the 1566 Working Group since 2013.)

Following several months of discussions, on 17 December 2012 the Council issued a concise note by its President (S/2012/937) which said that “in an effort to enhance the efficiency and transparency of the Council’s work, as well as interaction and dialogue among Council members”, members of the Council “support an informal process with the participation of all Council members as regards appointing the Chairpersons of the subsidiary organs from among Council members in a balanced, transparent, efficient and inclusive way, which facilitates an exchange of information related to the work of the subsidiary organs involved”. It furthermore said that Council members “should also consult informally with newly elected members soon after their election on the appointment of the Chairpersons of the subsidiary organs for the following year”.

The five outgoing chairs will brief the Council in early December: Ambassador Agshin Mehdiev (Azerbaijan) as chair of the 1533 Democratic Republic of Congo Sanctions Committee; Ambassador Gert Rosenthal (Guatemala) as chair of the 1572 Côte d’Ivoire Sanctions Committee and of the Informal Working Group on International Tribunals; Ambassador Mohammed Loulichki (Morocco) as chair of the 1373 Counter-Terrorism Committee and 2048 Guinea-Bissau Sanctions Committees and of the 1566 Working Group; Ambassador Masood Khan (Pakistan) as chair of the 1521 Liberia Sanctions Committee and of the Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations; and Ambassador Kodjo Menan (Togo) as chair of the 1518 Iraq Sanctions Committee and 1636 Lebanon Sanctions Committee. Incoming Council members thus stand to be the first to benefit from an improved process, and their experience will provide opportunities for testing its advantages and potential downsides. Yet, any current improvements are unlikely to redress the current divide that exists between the chairs of the subsidiary bodies and the penholders of the associated agenda item(s), who ultimately lead any drafting exercise leading to a Council decision or statement.