Security Council Working Methods
Expected Council Action
In June, Estonia is organising a virtual open debate on the Council’s working methods. Like last year, Estonia is collaborating with Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Chair of the Informal Working Group on Working Methods (IWG), to convene this debate. The IWG Chair is expected to circulate a concept note to members to guide the debate. If the special measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic are still in effect at the time of the debate, statements by non-Council members can be expected to be submitted in writing.
The anticipated briefers are Ambassador I. Rhonda King (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) as the chair of the IWG, and Loraine Sievers, co-author of “The Procedure of the UN Security Council (4th edition)”. 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 15 May 2020 during Estonia’s last Council presidency. It was the Council’s 12th annual working methods debate, and it was organised under the theme “Ensuring transparency, efficiency and effectiveness”. The meeting emphasised the concept of “agility” as a critical element for the effective functioning of the Council, particularly in the context of the extraordinary challenges posed by COVID-19.
For the second time, the ten elected Council members presented a joint statement, delivered by Ambassador Dang Dinh Quy (Viet Nam). In addition to Council members, 41 member state representatives delivered statements, some of them speaking on behalf of groups of states such as the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency group (ACT), the Like-Minded States on Targeted Sanctions, or the group of 24 former elected members from all regional groups. This pattern is likely to be maintained during the upcoming debate in June.
Since the start of its Chairpersonship in January 2020, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has been convening meetings of the IWG every six to eight weeks. It has been keen to “improve existing practices and procedures, while identifying and exploring new areas for development”, according to the Chair’s statement delivered at last year’s open debate. Accordingly, it has developed eight draft notes on various topics, ranging from co-penholdership to ensuring multilingualism in all Security Council meetings with a view to moving ongoing discussions forward and building on the work done by the previous IWG Chair, Kuwait. It is not ruling out the possibility of tabling these notes for adoption before the end of its mandate on 31 December 2021.
Following the outbreak of COVID-19, the Council had to adapt its working methods to the extraordinary circumstances created by the pandemic. Accordingly, it displayed considerable creativity and flexibility by developing new temporary working methods, including the holding of its meetings through videoconference and the adoption of resolutions through written procedures. At this stage, it appears that the Council may move more consistently from virtual to in-person meetings since almost all COVID-related capacity restrictions were lifted in New York as of 19 May. Some Council meetings were held in–person in late May.
Key Issues and Options
One issue is how input and ideas from the debate can help to inform the IWG’s work during the remainder of the year, particularly in light of the fact that it may possibly introduce several additional notes on a range of issues to improve existing procedures and practices.
Another issue for the Council is how it can plan beyond the working methods developed under the temporary special measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this regard, members may want to consider whether some of the pandemic-inspired procedures and practices can be retained to allow the Council to continue to be more agile and responsive.
As an option, Estonia could consider producing a chair’s summary to capture the main themes from the open debate.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Council members continue to grapple with the need to strike a balance between transparency and efficiency in the work of the Council. This was a clear theme of the working methods debate last year that may be reflected again in this year’s discussion.
As new Council members are elected in June, the issue of burden-sharing and a more equal distribution of work among all members of the Council will also continue to be emphasised. In this regard, several members advocate for co-penholderships as a way of empowering a wider number of members. At present, France, the UK and the US continue to be the penholders on most issues. In addition, the implementation of the agreed note on the selection of the chairs of subsidiary bodies continues to be a source of tension between permanent members and elected members in relation to burden-sharing.
Some members emphasise the need for ensuring implementation of eight notes by the president on several aspects of working methods adopted at the end of 2019. This has been a focus of discussion in the IWG this year under the leadership of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines as chair. The critical role of the monthly presidencies in the implementation of the note, including in creating and testing new practices or establishing alternatives to existing practices, has been noted in this regard.
In addition, some members favour an increase in the frequency of public meetings to enhance the transparency of the Council’s work, while others underscore the need for more private forms of discussion, which are conducive for holding interactive discussions and building consensus.
UN DOCUMENTS ON WORKING METHODS
|Note by the President of the Security Council|
|30 August 2017S/2017/507||This was the Note of the Security Council containing the compendium of its working methods.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|19 May 2020S/2020/418||This was the 15 May open VTC session in lieu of the annual open debate on Working Methods.|
|Security Council Letters|
|7 May 2020S/2020/374||This was a concept note transmitted by Estonia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines for the annual open debate on the working methods of the Security Council.|
|2 April 2020S/2020/273||This was a letter from the president of the Security Council to permanent representatives of Council members containing a paper on the working methods of the Security Council for the month.
of April 2020.
|27 March 2020S/2020/253||This was a letter from the president of the Security Council to permanent representatives of Council members describing temporary measures to be applied during the COVID-19 period, in particular the written voting procedure.|
|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.|