May 2020 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 April 2020
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Open Debate on Security Council Working Methods

Expected Council Action 

During its presidency in May, Estonia has decided to organise a virtual open debate on the Council’s working methods. Estonia, the vice-chair of the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions (IWG), will prepare a concept note for the debate jointly with the chair, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Because the special measures related to the COVID19 pandemic will still be in effect at the time of the debate, statements by non-Council members are likely to be submitted in writing. 

The debate will be held under the agenda item “Implementation of the note by the President of the Security Council (S/2017/507)”, referring to the most recent version of the comprehensive compendium of Council working methods.  

Background and Key Recent Developments 

The Council held its most recent open debate on working methods on 6 June 2019 during the presidency of Kuwait, which chaired the IWG in 2018–2019. For the first time in an open debate, the ten elected Council members presented a joint statement, delivered by Ambassador Jerry Matthews Matjila (South Africa). In addition to Council members, 28 representatives of member states delivered statements, some of them speaking on behalf of groups of states such as the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency group, known as ACT; the Like-Minded States on Targeted Sanctions; or a group of 22 former elected members from all regional groups.   

During its remaining time as chair of the IWG, Kuwait focused on several of the topics raised and specific proposals put forward by participants. The IWG developed several notes by the president of the Security Council (the document format frequently used for capturing working methods-related understandings) on subjects including the addendum to the Council’s provisional programme of work, wrap-up sessions, the selection of chairs of subsidiary bodies, Security Council visiting missions, the timeline for the adoption of the annual report to the General Assembly, the gender pronoun used in the Provisional Rules of Procedure, additional modalities for incoming elected Council members, Council meetings with troop- and police-contributing countries, and co-penholdership by chairs of the corresponding subsidiary bodies. 

The negotiations of most drafts took months and were often difficult. No agreement was reached on the draft concerning co-penholderships, but on 27 December 2019, eight notes by the president were issued on the other topics.   

In January, the new chair of the IWG, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, jointly with Kuwait, the IWG chair during the preceding two years, organised a planning retreat on working methods. The two countries’ permanent representatives, I. Rhonda King and Mansour Al-Otaibi, respectively, chaired the 17-19 January meetings. All Council members, most at the political coordinator level, were represented at the retreat held in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ capital, Kingstown. Among the topics discussed in the context of planning the work of the IWG was striking the balance between working methods codification and allowing for flexibility. In her summary and personal reflection on the discussions, the IWG Chair I. Rhonda King, highlighted the critical role of the successive Council presidents, “including in creating and testing new practices or establishing alternatives to existing practices” and signalled the intention to foster greater partnership between the monthly presidencies and the IWG. 

Key Issues and Options 

The new leadership of the IWG sees the debate as an opportunity to receive from the broader membership input and ideas that would inform the group’s work in 20202021. A likely topic of particular interest is how the Council can best strike a balance between transparency, efficiency and effectiveness.   

Member states not on the Council may want to highlight, both in terms of substance and format, the types of information coming out of the Council they consider as most important and relevant to their work. In this context, some may bring up the wrap-up sessions that are held by most presidencies. Also likely to be raised will be the timing of the submission of the Council’s annual report to the General Assembly.  

With the adoption of eight notes by the president on several aspects of working methods at the end of 2019, some members will want to comment on the new measures’ likely impact and implementation.  

Some participants in the open debate may also want to discuss the ways in which the Council has been adapting its working methods under the temporary special measures related to the COVID–19 pandemic (for more information on this topic, see “In Hindsight” in this issue of the Forecast).  

Council and Wider Dynamics 

The debate in May will be the Council’s 12th open debate on working methods. Initially very rarethe first such debate was held in 1994 and the second not until 2008open debates on working methods have become an annual practice during the past decade. Previously, there had been some reluctance, in particular from permanent members, about discussing Security Council working methods publicly and receiving critiques and suggestions from member states not on the Council.   

Elected members have historically been the driving force in most working methods initiatives. Only one open debate on working methodsthe firstwas an initiative of a permanent member, France. In the early to mid-1990s, when the Council’s activity increased dramatically, as did the interest of members not on the Council in its work, several members began seeing the need to describe new practices in written documents and to work on making the Council’s documents better organised and easier to trace. Elected members felt this need much more acutely, and several took on codifying specific areas of Council practice as a priority for their two-year term. This shared concern resulted in the formation of the IWG in 1993. Initially chaired by the rotating monthly presidency of the Security Council, the IWG has been chaired by elected members for periods of one or two years since 2006 

Over the decades, members and observers have noted that the lack of formally binding procedures creates uncertainty, especially for elected members, who are thereby at a disadvantage. Some, however, have cited pragmatic reasons for keeping the rules in their provisional form: not making them formal gives the Council more flexibility and allows it to adapt working methods quickly, sometimes literally on the spot.  


Security Council Presidential Statement
30 October 2015S/PRST/2015/19 This was the first presidential statement adopted by the Council on its own working methods.
Notes by the President of the Security Council
27 December 2019S/2019/990 This note addressed the issue of the Council’s visiting missions.
27 December 2019S/2019/991 This note addressed the issue of the selection of chairs of Council subsidiary bodies.
27 December 2019S/2019/992 This note addressed the issue of an unofficial addendum to the programme of work to be prepared at the discretion of the president of the Security Council.
27 December 2019S/2019/993 This note addressed the issue of additional modalities for incoming elected members.
27 December 2019S/2019/994 This note addressed the issue of wrap-up sessions at the end of presidencies of the Council.
27 December 2019S/2019/995 This note addressed the issue of Council meetings with troop- and police-contributing countries.
27 December 2019S/2019/996 This note addressed the issue of the gender pronoun used in the Provisional Rules of Procedure.
27 December 2019S/2019/997 This note addressed the issue of timeline for the preparation of the Council annual report to the General Assembly.
30 August 2017S/2017/507 This was the Note of the Security Council containing the compendium of its working methods.
26 July 2010S/2010/507 This was a note which focused on enhancing Council transparency, as well as interaction and dialogue with non-Council members.
19 July 2006S/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
6 June 2019S/PV.8539 Kuwait, the chair of the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions in 2018-2019, organised its second open debate on working methods.
16 December 1994S/PV.3483 This was the first open debate on Security Council working methods presided by Rwanda.
2 April 2020S/2020/273 This letter from the Permanent Representative of the Dominican Republic on Security Council explained the working methods for April 2020.
27 March 2020S/2020/253 a letter from the Permanent Representative of China on the written voting procedure and other provisional procedural measures.
3 March 2020S/2020/172 This was a letter from the permanent representatives of Kuwait and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines containing their report from the IWG January 2020 planning retreat.