Working Methods Open Debate
Expected Council Action
In September, the Council will hold its annual working methods open debate. Ambassador Ferit Hoxha (Albania), the chair of the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions, will brief. Ahead of the debate, Albania is expected to circulate a concept note. 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.
Key Recent Developments
The Council held its last working methods open debate on 28 June 2022, with a resumption the following day. Karin Landgren, Executive Director of Security Council Report and Loraine Sievers, co-author of “The Procedure of the UN Security Council” (4th edition), were the briefers. Thirty-five member states, other than Council members, participated in the meeting. Among the areas highlighted during the debate were the monthly assessments by Council Presidents, wrap-up sessions, implementation of Note 507, the selection of subsidiary body chairs, the need to increase the effectiveness of UN sanctions, the balance between open and closed meetings and the use of the veto. The elected members (E10) delivered a joint statement for the fourth time. Brazil and India also delivered a joint statement with a stronger focus on Security Council reform.
On 30 December 2022, the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions (IWG) adopted its first annual report. It covers the activities of the IWG in 2022 and includes an annex with selected indicators on the implementation of Note 507 and subsequent notes.
The IWG met five times in 2022. It has met four times in 2023: on 24 February, 28 April, 27 June, and 22 August. The IWG has maintained “Strengthening and advancing the implementation of the Note by the President of 30 August 2017” as a standing agenda item. This gives recent presidencies the opportunity to brief on their working methods commitments. At Brazil’s initiative, the IWG added “penholdership, penholders and co-penholders on Council resolutions, presidential statements” as a standing agenda item. Recent penholders provide an assessment of their experiences in preparing and negotiating drafts.
In August 2023, the IWG agreed to presidential notes on the orderly conduct of a minute of silence and chairing subsidiary bodies if the chairs have not been agreed on by 1 January. The note on subsidiary bodies states that if by 1 January there is no agreement on the appointment of chairs and vice-chairs, “the responsibilities of the subsidiary bodies of the Council during the month of January shall devolve to the President for the month of January”. Members are currently discussing two draft presidential notes on penholdership.
Russia organised an Arria-formula meeting on penholdership arrangements in August 2022. Among the issues raised were the need for a more structured practice in selecting penholders and co-penholders and a code of conduct for penholders.
Arria-formula meetings continue to be widely used. By the end of July, 14 Arria-formula meetings had been held in 2023. (There were 21 meetings in this format last year.) A new development is the opposition to webcasting these meetings. In 2022, all but one of the 21 Arria-formula meetings were webcast. Three of this year’s Arria-formula meetings have not been webcast to date due to opposition from various members or because the organiser chose not to do so.
Since the adoption of General Assembly resolution 76/262 (“the veto initiative”), vetoes have been cast in the Council on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea sanctions, the renewal of the cross-border aid mechanism in Syria in both 2022 and 2023, and the referendum in four provinces in Ukraine.
The Security Council adopted its annual report on 30 May, presenting a factual overview of the Council’s work in 2022. The introduction noted the Council’s return to its regular working methods after the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. It also documented the number and types of meetings held, areas of significant Council attention, and the key resolutions adopted in 2022.
The Council visiting mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in March marked the return to this working method after a year and a half. Due to travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, Council members had no visiting missions in 2020. In 2021, with travel restrictions gradually easing, members undertook one visiting mission, to Mali and Niger in October. Although COVID-19 travel restrictions had largely been lifted by 2022, there were no visiting missions that year.
On 28 June, Japan, together with Albania, Kuwait and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, launched an interactive version of the “Handbook on UN Security Council Working Methods” based on the “Green Handbook” which contains the Provisional Rules of Procedure, Note 507, and all subsequent Notes of the President on working methods.
Key Issues and Options
An overarching issue is the implementation of Note 507 and the presidential notes adopted subsequently. Two positive developments are the new mechanism for tracking the implementation of working methods, and discussing the implementation of presidential notes on working methods as a standing item for IWG meetings. Future options could include identifying aspects of Note 507 that are not being addressed in commitments made by Council Presidents and discussing the obstacles to their implementation in the IWG.
An emerging issue is the politicisation of working methods and procedural matters as a result of the frayed relations between some members. Rule 37 invitations to member states and rule 39 invitations to briefers have become particularly controversial. And in August, members were not able to agree on the programme of work for the month. Such procedural wrangling is not conducive to the efficient functioning of the Council, as it requires a significant investment of time and energy. Informal guidelines on some of the more controversial issues may allow members to move past procedural squabbles to more substantive matters.
A related issue is the use of the Arria-formula meeting format to amplify and promote specific agendas. The topics of Arria-formula meetings this year have tended towards presentation of particular political perspectives, which coupled with the high number of such meetings in recent years, has brought a degree of Arria-formula meeting exhaustion. Members may wish to assess the usefulness of this format and discuss ways of restoring its credibility.
There have been some positive developments on penholderships, but unresolved issues remain, including how to allocate penholding opportunities among elected members without creating a rigid system. Among the suggestions are that the chair of a given subsidiary body be the co-penholder on the related country file, and that the Council member from the region in question would be an appropriate co-penholder. A more informal system where “shadow penholders” could be consulted during the drafting process appears to be emerging on some issues. Another option being floated is for a group of members to work together on drafts as Groups of Friends have in the past on issues such as Afghanistan and still do on Bosnia and Herzegovina. Members are currently discussing an E10 draft on penholders initiated by Brazil and the UAE and a French draft on a code of conduct for penholders. Brazil and the UAE held two workshops on penholdership in November and December 2022.
An issue for the Council is finding the right balance between the transparency of open meetings and the need for more private discussion in consultations. The balance between open and closed meetings has been a regular topic at working methods debates. Since 2001, public meetings have predominated, and the Council’s 276 public meetings in 2022 were up some 12 percent over 2021. This can largely be attributed to the number of meetings the Council held on Ukraine, almost exclusively in open sessions.
The paucity of analysis in the Council’s annual report to the General Assembly has long been an issue for some of the wider membership. Some members have called for the annual report to provide more details of the challenges faced by the Council, on resolutions that failed to be adopted, and on the use of the veto. A related issue is the inconsistent submission of assessments by Council Presidents, which are used in the drafting of the overview of the Annual Report.
A significant issue is the timely selection of the chairs of subsidiary bodies. This requires early consultations among incoming members and a willingness to be flexible during the process. Following the elections, current chairs could also use the regular E10 meetings to provide pertinent information about specific subsidiary bodies to the incoming members, deepening their familiarity with the workload and challenges of particular subsidiary bodies.
Both the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine strained already difficult relations among permanent members. In the current environment, working methods are a highly political tool that can be used by permanent members to block the activities of other permanent members.
The elected members (E10) have generally remained united on working methods and are likely to deliver a joint statement for the fifth year. Last year, there was a small crack in the unity, when Brazil and India delivered a separate joint statement highlighting the need for reform, although they associated themselves with the E10 statement. The need for a more equitable distribution of work and greater burden sharing remains a common objective for elected members. Elected members have made clear their desire to be penholders. The years of pushing for this appear to have led the P3, who are the penholders on most issues, to accept that penholding cannot be a permanent member monopoly. Changes in the relationship between some P3 penholders and host governments may also have prompted this shift in attitude.
A number of members see working methods as a way of reforming the Council from within. In this context, there is particular interest in the veto initiative and how it can be further strengthened.
UN Documents on Working Methods
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|28 June 2022S/PV.9079||This was an open debate on the theme “Security Council working methods”.|
|General Assembly Documents|
|26 April 2022A/RES/76/262||This General Assembly resolution stipulated that the President of the General Assembly shall convene a formal meeting of the General Assembly within ten working days of a veto being cast by a permanent member of the Security Council.|
|30 June 2023A/77/2||This document entails the 2022 Report of Security Report to the General Assembly.|
|28 February 2019A/RES/47/233||The General Assembly adopted a resolution agreeing to hold a substantive debate on the annual reports from the Security Council.|
|Notes by the President of the Security Council|
|21 August 2023S/2023/612||The note is on the orderly conduct of minutes of silence in the Security Council.|
|21 August 2023S/2023/615||This note is on the functioning of subsidiary body chairs.|
|30 December 2022S/2022/1032||This document entails the first annual report of the IWG.|
|29 December 2022S/2022/1011||This document entails the letter dated 29 December 2022 from the Permanent Representatives of India, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, and Norway to the United Nations addressed to the President of the Security Council.|