Working Methods Debate
Expected Council Action
In June, Albania is organising an open debate on the Council’s working methods. Albania, the chair of the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions (IWG), is expected to circulate a concept note ahead of the debate. 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.
Recent Key Developments
The Council held its most recent open debate on working methods on 16 June 2021. It was the Council’s 13th annual working methods debate and was organised under the theme “Agility and Innovation: lessons for the future from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic”. The elected members (E10) delivered a joint statement for the third time. With pandemic restrictions still partially in place, the meeting was limited to Council members, with the larger membership submitting written statements.
In 2021, then-chair of the IWG Saint Vincent and the Grenadines presented draft presidential notes on 12 topics to members of the IWG, of which the IWG adopted five. The four notes adopted in July 2021 were on: training opportunities for incoming members, multilingualism, the role of the president of the Council, and the role of the political coordinators in the implementation of Note 507 and subsequently adopted notes. The final note of 2021 focused on the Council’s commitment to “maintaining its state of readiness in all circumstances” in order to function continuously.
The IWG has met twice in 2022: on 18 March and 6 May. At the first meeting, the chair, Albania, introduced the idea of a tracking mechanism for the implementation of Note 507. The proposed mechanism would include data indicators on the implementation of relevant working methods of the Council to be tracked by either the Security Council Affairs Department or the Council President. It seems the IWG has also agreed to issue an annual report starting this year. The IWG retreat, planned by the chair for early March, was postponed to later in the year following the escalation of the crisis in Ukraine.
The selection of subsidiary body chairs in 2021 was protracted and divisive. Competition for several subsidiary bodies and reluctance to take on others led to an impasse, with one member finally choosing not to chair any subsidiary bodies. Note 507 sets a 1 October deadline for the agreement on the chairs of subsidiary bodies, which has yet to be met. In 2020 and 2021, the chairs of subsidiary bodies had not been formalised by the start of the new year.
The Council travelled to Mali and the Sahel in October 2021. This was the first visiting mission in two and a half years due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.
Key Issues and Options
An overarching issue is the implementation of Note 507 and subsequently adopted notes by the president. The emerging practice of Council presidents preparing monthly working methods commitments is a step in the right direction, and making this a more formal part of the presidency would provide a comprehensive record of implementation over time. For greater transparency, each presidency could include its commitments and an assessment of their implementation in their presidency assessments.
A related issue is promoting incoming members’ familiarity with Note 507 and subsequent notes. To this end, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines published “Note 507 Plus”, containing an index of all the areas covered to date by working methods notes. Incoming members could also be offered capacity building on working methods by the Secretariat immediately after the June elections. An annual report and a letter from the outgoing chair, such as the one produced by Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in January 2022, would also be useful references.
Another issue is whether the IWG wishes to consider new notes, including those that were not agreed to last year, such as a more detailed note on the Council’s commitment to maintaining a state of readiness in order to be prepared for situations that might disrupt its functioning. There may also be interest in addressing new working methods in a note, such as the commitments made by Council presidents on women, peace and security.
A significant issue is concluding the selection of the chairs of subsidiary bodies in a timely manner. This requires early consultations among incoming members and willingness to be flexible during the process. A workshop by current chairs or the Secretariat for incoming members on the role of the chair of different subsidiary bodies may be useful soon after the election. A more ambitious option might be to review the selection process and agree that the decision of who is to fill the chairs of subsidiary bodies should be left in the hands of the incoming members without requiring sign-off by the permanent members.
A long-term issue is that of elected members chairing subsidiary bodies while they rarely hold the pen on country-specific issues. (The penholder refers to the member of the Council that leads the negotiation and drafting of resolutions on a particular Council agenda item.) France, the UK and the US are the penholders on the majority of country files. While there have been calls for greater sharing of pens between permanent and elected members, this remains rare. However, in 2021, Ireland took the pen on Tigray, Ethiopia, and in 2022, Albania has emerged as the co-penholder on Ukraine with the US. Mexico has also begun to play a key role on issues in its region by co-drafting outcomes with the UK on Colombia and the US on Haiti. With these developments, some members may choose to push for a discussion on creating more pen-sharing opportunities for elected members.
With only one visiting mission in the past two and a half years, Council members have largely missed the benefit of a first-hand view of fragile field settings and of being able to deliver messages directly to key stakeholders. With travel restrictions now largely lifted, Council members may wish to assess strategically which situations could benefit most from a Council visit in the second half of the year. If full visiting missions prove not feasible, the Council may want to consider mini-missions or virtual visits as alternatives.
A continuing issue is the balance between transparency and privacy. Members regularly raise the need for a balance between public and private meetings in working methods debates. Members may wish to offer suggestions on how best to maintain transparency while maximising the Council’s effectiveness, encouraging interactivity and building consensus. One option may be to encourage press elements following closed meetings as a regular practice.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Working methods can be a divisive and politically sensitive area for Council members. Permanent members have generally been reluctant to record the Council’s working methods, arguing that these practices should remain flexible and adaptable. In line with this thinking, they are more cautious about the topics for new presidential notes and are more likely to stress implementation of existing practices.
Elected members have continued to be united on working methods, and the E10 are likely to deliver a joint statement for the fourth consecutive year. Among the issues that may be raised is the women, peace and security monthly commitments, transparency and due process in sanctions regimes, as well as the erratic use of rule 37, which provides for the participation of member states when their interests are affected. The need for a more equitable distribution of work and greater burden sharing may also be raised as the selection process for chairs of subsidiary bodies will have started following the election of five new members on 9 June. Members may also choose to highlight the practice that has developed around monthly commitments on working methods by the president and ideas for monitoring the implementation of Note 507 and the 13 notes adopted since 2017.
Some members are keen to record COVID-era practices for the Council’s working methods during periods when it is unable to function normally, including suggestions for improvements. However, existing differences may make this difficult, Russia has made clear that the VTC format used during 2020 and part of 2021 were temporary measures and should not be considered formal meetings of the Council.
In addition, some members favour increased 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 to interactive exchanges and building consensus.
The issue of working methods is one of great interest to the wider membership, and after two years of only being able to provide written statements, many member states are expected to participate in the debate. Among the areas they are likely to cover include the importance of participation of the wider membership in Council open debates and the wrap-up sessions. The Council’s use of Uniting for Peace, which has led to a larger role for the General Assembly in addressing the Ukraine situation, and the recent veto initiative, may prompt some members to raise issues around reform of the Security Council.
UN DOCUMENTS ON WORKING METHODS
|Notes by the President of the Security Council|
|12 July 2021S/2021/645||This note addressed the need for capacity building for elected members in working methods.|
|12 July 2021S/2021/646||This note focused on the role of those who coordinate the monthly activities of the Council.|
|12 July 2021S/2021/647||This note underscored the role of the Council President in the implementation of the notes.|
|12 July 2021S/2021/648||This note addressed the issue of multilingualism.|
|22 December 2021S/2021/1074||This note affirmed the Council’s commitment to maintaining its state of readiness under all circumstances.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|16 June 2021S/PV.8798||This was then annual debate on working methods, which was organised jointly by Estonia, the president of the Council in June, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Chair of the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions (IWG). The theme of this year’s open debate was “Agility and innovation: lessons for the future from the COVID-19 pandemic”. Ambassador I. Rhonda King (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), the Chair of the IWG; Loraine Sievers, co-author of “The Procedure of the UN Security Council (4th edition)”; and Karin Landgren, the Executive Director of Security Council Report, briefed.|
|Security Council Letter|
|2 February 2022S/2022/88||This was a letter from the permanent representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines as the 2020-2021 chair of the IWG.|
|7 October 2021S/2021/860||This was a summary of the 2021 open debate.|