February 2017 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 January 2017
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Lead Roles within the Council in 2017: Penholders and Chairs of Subsidiary Bodies

The insert  in this Forecast contains an updated list of Security Council penholders and chairs of subsidiary bodies as of January 2017. The table does not contain an exhaustive list of all the agenda items of which the Council is currently seized but includes items with regular outcomes or where a subsidiary body has been established. For the full name of the agenda items, please refer to the latest summary statement by the Secretary-General of matters of which the Security Council is seized and the stage reached in their consideration (S/2017/10) and the weekly updates thereto. The list of chairs of subsidiary bodies is contained in a 9 January note by the Council president (S/2017/2/Rev.1).

The penholder system emerged around 2010, though the exact date is difficult to establish. The first time it was mentioned in a Council document other than meeting records was in a 2014 presidential note (S/2014/268). The note proclaimed that members of the Council agreed to support “where appropriate, the informal arrangement whereby one or more Council members (as ‘penholder(s)’) initiate and chair the informal drafting process” of documents, including resolutions, presidential statements and press statements of the Council. While the note specified that any member of the Council can be a penholder, the P3 (France, the UK and the US) currently dominate the penholder list, as is clear from the attached table. It should be noted, however, that this is only an informal system, with nothing preventing other Council members from “grabbing the pen” and drafting outcomes on any given issue if they so desire. Indeed, over the course of 2016 non-permanent members seemed to demonstrate an increased willingness to do so.

Contrasting with the penholder system, the many subsidiary bodies established by the Council are chaired by non-permanent members. The appointment process is largely controlled by the P5, although non-permanent members have long been pushing for a more inclusive and transparent process that takes into consideration to a greater extent the priorities and preferences of all Council members. As a result of these efforts, some changes in the selection procedures were instituted last year, reflecting also the fact that elections to the Council were moved up from October to June. Building on previous relevant presidential notes, Council members on 15 July 2016 agreed on a new note (S/2016/619), drafted by Japan as chair of the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions (IWG), concerning the preparation of newly elected members during the transitional period between the election and the beginning of their term, including the selection and preparation of chairs of subsidiary bodies. Among other things, the note called on Council members “to make every effort to agree provisionally on the appointment of the chairs of the subsidiary organs for the following year no later than 1 October”. The note also reiterated that consultations on the appointment should begin as soon as possible after the elections and be conducted in a “balanced, transparent, efficient and inclusive way” by two members of the Council “working in full cooperation”, with it being understood that the two members in question would be the IWG chair and one permanent member. 

Council members did not reach agreement on the selection of chairs for 2017 until 31 October 2016, but this was still much earlier than in previous years, thus giving the incoming elected members Bolivia, Ethiopia, Italy, Kazakhstan and Sweden more time to prepare for their new responsibilities. Bolivia chairs the 1540 Committee; Ethiopia, the Working Group on Conflict Prevention in Africa; Italy, the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Sanctions Committee; Kazakhstan, the 751/1907 Somalia-Eritrea, the 1267/1989/2253 ISIL/Da’esh/Al-Qaida and the 1988 Afghanistan Sanctions Committees; and Sweden, the 1970 Libya Sanctions Committee and the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.

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