Expected Council Action
In October, the Council will hold its annual open debate on working methods. Ambassador María Cristina Perceval (Argentina), the chair of the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions (the Working Group), will brief. Also expected to brief are the Ombudsperson of the 1267/1989 Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee, Kimberly Prost, and ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. No outcome is anticipated.
Key Recent Developments
This will be the fifth annual Council working methods debate and the seventh debate on this topic in UN history. (Previous debates were held in 1994, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.) Argentina will likely aim to assess the implementation of working methods agreed to during its chairmanship of the Working Group in 2013 and 2014 and focus the discussion on two specific issues: the follow-up on Council referrals to the ICC and the possible extension of the mandate of the 1267/1989 Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee’s Ombudsperson to other sanctions regimes.
Since the last open debate, on 29 October 2013, the Working Group has agreed on three notes by the president (the usual format for issuing its outcomes). A 14 April note encouraged wider participation of Council members in drafting Council documents and asserted that any member of the Council could be a penholder (S/2014/268). This was followed on 5 June by a note on the appointment of chairpersons of subsidiary bodies (S/2014/393), which encouraged the early appointment of those chairs. It also called for increased communication between the outgoing and incoming chairs through informal meetings and the provision of a written briefing detailing the work of the outgoing chair. The most recent note, issued on 4 August, focused on the need for enhanced dialogue between Council members, especially during crises or fast-evolving situations (S/2014/565).
There has been a number of working methods developments this year. On 30 July, at the end of its Council presidency, Rwanda organised the first public “wrap-up session” since 2005. In August, the UK held the wrap-up in a public format, and Argentina is planning one in October. These meetings, aimed at enhancing the transparency of the Council’s work, allow Council members to exchange views on situations addressed during the month as well as on its working methods. The public format of this session, in addition to creating a record of the discussion, offers the wider public a glimpse into the ongoing internal debate on the working methods of the Council.
The practice of horizon-scanning briefings by the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) on issues of concern, initiated by the UK in late 2010, seems to have ebbed, with only three held in 2013 and none in 2014. In May, however, a new informal DPA briefing format emerged. These briefings are organised at the initiative of the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs. They are held toward the middle of the month, in a conference room not on Council premises and are usually attended at political coordinator level. So far, they have focused on thematic issues rather than situation-specific items (May’s briefing was on mediation, sanctions in June, elections in July, and regional cooperation in August). No DPA briefing was held in September.
In 2014, there was renewed interest in the veto power of the P5. This was triggered by the French proposal to adopt a voluntary code of conduct whereby China, France, Russia, the UK and the US would refrain from using their veto on decisions aimed at ending or preventing mass atrocities. On 25 September, France and Mexico co-chaired a ministerial-level event on this issue on the margins of the 69th session of the General Assembly. The event was presided over by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Mexican Secretary for Foreign Affairs José Antonio Meade Kuribreña.
A new key issue for Council members will be the implementation of the recently adopted notes by the president addressing some of the challenges in the internal division of labour within the Council.
For the full UN membership, an important issue will be the progress made in the discussions on the voluntary code of conduct regarding the veto in cases involving mass atrocities.
An overarching issue in the working-methods discourse between the Council and the membership at large will continue to be the tension between article 30 of the UN Charter, which states that the Council shall adopt its rules of procedure, and article 10, which states that the General Assembly may make recommendations to the Council on its powers and functions.
While no outcome is anticipated, options for discussion, in addition to topics suggested by Argentina, may include focusing on the implementation of the recent notes as well as on developments in recent Council practice. For example:
- a discussion of practical steps needed to allow for more equitable distribution of penholders and chairs of subsidiary bodies including the possibility of co-penholders;
- suggesting that chairs of subsidiary bodies be appointed by a specific deadline (for example early November); or
- considering the pros and cons of reviving the Horizon Scanning format, in particular in the context of the Secretary-General’s “Rights up Front Agenda” launched in December 2013.
Council and Wider Dynamics
The divide between the permanent and non-permanent members that has characterised the dynamics among Council members during the past few years (with many discussions first occurring within the P5 and drafts being shared with the full Council quite close to their adoption) has continued. The recent adoption of the notes on penholders, on the appointment of chairs of Council subsidiary bodies and on Council internal consultations and cooperation may signal the emergence of a new dynamic, with the P5 displaying a degree of responsiveness to the growing frustration of elected members.
On the issues of a possible expansion of the Ombudsperson’s mandate to other sanctions committees and on follow up to ICC referrals, as suggested by Argentina, most Council members seem to have a number of questions and concerns.
Among the UN membership at large, Council working methods continue to be a subject of much interest, as manifested by high participation in open debates, wrap-up sessions and the activities of Accountability, Coherence and Transparency, a 23-member, cross-regional group of small- and medium- sized states dedicated to working methods.
UN Documents on Working Methods
|Notes by the President of the Security Council|
|4 August 2014 S/2014/565||This was a note by the president of the Council that stressed the need to enhance cooperation and consultation among Council members.|
|5 June 2014 S/2014/393||This was a note by the President of the Council that proposed measures to improve the effectiveness and continuity of the work of the Council subsidiary bodies.|
|14 April 2013 S/2014/268||This was a note by the President of the Council that called for wider participation of Council members in the drafting of Council documents.|
|28 August 2013 S/2013/515||This note by the President focused on ways to improve the Council’s dialogue with non-Council members and bodies.|
|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|
|29 October 2013 S/PV.7052||This was meeting record from the Council’s annual debate on working methods.|
|29 October 2013 S/PV.7052 Resumption 1||This was the annual open debate on working methods.|
|16 December 1994 S/PV.3483||This was the first open debate on Security Council working methods presided by Rwanda.|
|16 October 2013 S/2013/613||This letter from Azerbaijan circulated a concept note on the annual working methods debate held on 29 October.|
|19 September 2013 S/2013/568||This letter to the Council sent on behalf of ACT by Switzerland, welcomed the issuance of the 28 August Note from the President addressing a number of transparency issues.|
|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.|