Special Research Report No. 1: Security Council Working Methods-A Work in Progress?
Introduction • Summary and Some Conclusions • Developments Since the Adoption of Note 507 in 2006 • The August 2008 Open Debate on Working Methods • Implementation of Note 507 • Council Dynamics • Dynamics in General Assembly
On 18 October 2007 Security Council Report published its first Special Research Report on Security Council working methods. It was entitled Security Council Transparency, Legitimacy and Effectiveness. It tracked the efforts which had been made to reform Council working methods from 1993 to 2007.
A second report, Security Council Working Methods, was published on 12 August 2008 as a resource in preparation for the open debate in the Security Council that month.
This report is designed to update readers on developments since 2008. And also, now that there has been over three years of practice since the adoption by the Security Council of its note S/2006/507 on 19 July 2006 on Council working methods, this report examines the level of implementation of the measures agreed in the note and their effectiveness.
Finally, this report outlines some of the ad hoc evolutions of Council working methods which have occurred in the context of specific cases, particularly in 2009.
The “thematic reform” approach—under which the Council would adopt one or a series of sweeping generic decisions formally resetting its working processes.
The incremental “case specific” approach—under which the Council would be open to evolution in its working methods but this would be driven principally by the needs of specific situations.
The “don’t fix what isn’t broken” approach—under which the provisional rules of procedure and historical practice should be strictly applied lest the status of the Council be challenged or the workload of Council members expand uncontrollably.
Initially the efforts of countries like the S5 group (Costa Rica, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Singapore and Switzerland) to push the thematic reform approach in the General Assembly met fierce resistance by a number of permanent members. In recent years, in part because S5 members have interacted more directly with Security Council members and are pushing more for reform by the Council itself, the resistance has been less. But tension is never far below the surface. The permanent five (P5) members often see the thematic approach as a frustrating waste of time.
When it comes to incremental case specific reform, it is sometimes P5 members who have taken the lead in developing innovative and creative new ad hoc working methods of the kinds described in this report. China for instance, played an important and constructive role, along with the UK and others, in the evolution of the Informal Interactive Dialogue format used by Council members to discuss Sri Lanka and for Sri Lanka to participate in discussions. And it is fair to say that the efforts of the UK and France to reform Council management of peacekeeping operations have revealed not only a need for, but also interest by those countries in more energetic, creative and effective working processes. Moreover, France, the UK and the US have pushed for reform of the way Informal Consultations operate so that they would become less stilted and become more substantive interactive and more strategic. In the same vein, there are growing signs of frustration from some P5 members with the protracted discussions, usually at the level of Council experts, over essentially minor points in draft presidential statements. There is concern that too often statements are becoming lowest common denominator low quality outputs. (It is not lost on some in the Council that in recent years the AU Peace and Security Council has shown itself more adept at reaching agreement on quick and substantive decisions.)
The third vision is based on a more static approach to Council processes and has been evident in a number of important contexts recently. Often the underlying problem is that states, regional organisations (and even sometimes Council members) have not appreciated the subtle distinction between the Security Council—acting in its Charter mandated role—and the members of the Security Council, i.e. the 15 countries who happen also to be on the Council at the relevant time, acting collectively but not as the Council as such. This distinction is jealously preserved by some P5 members—in part as a control mechanism to limit what is discussed and when decisions can be taken. The distinction is based on the legal point that under the Provisional Rules of Procedure one cannot speak of a “Council” meeting unless an agenda for that meeting has been adopted as the first item of business. And the requirements for that to happen are quite constrained under the Rules. Accordingly, informal events, e.g. the Informal Consultations of the whole, are technically not meetings of the Council. Innovative ways to accommodate these constraints can be negotiated—as demonstrated on a number of recent occasions. However, there are also cases where states outside the Council and other organisations have felt that the Council’s approach was unreasonable.
Some conclusions seem to emerge from the analysis in this report:
Initiatives for thematic reform, while sometimes raising the frustration level, have probably played a key role in keeping the Council open to reform and innovation. They may also have encouraged the kind of progress which has been seen recently in evolving new working methods for ad hoc specific cases.
Comprehensive thematic reform through a suite of major procedural decisions remains a very difficult concept and is unlikely any time soon.
Even modest thematic initiatives, such as note 507 in 2006, take a great deal of effort. And implementation of such initiatives is always likely to be patchy—if only because the rotation of countries and individuals on the Council is so frequent that very quickly few, if any, remember what was agreed or its significance.
Regular monitoring, review and updating of initiatives like note 507 are likely to be essential if better implementation and some consistency of application is expected.
Reform of Security Council working methods by ad hoc innovation in specific cases is a realistic goal. But learning from past innovations and adapting them creatively for new cases are also likely to suffer as a result of rapid rotation of people.
But it is less clear that ad hoc informal changes of a generic nature produce real or lasting improvement. Good new ideas may become lost or misunderstood—as happened to the Arria formula at one stage. And there are grave risks of adverse unintended consequences, as discussed below.
Achieving ad hoc innovation in specific cases requires not only determination and a very good understanding of the rules and working methods, but also a strong political commitment—and sometimes political courage.
Widespread misunderstanding exists about the rules which govern the Council’s work and the Council working processes—and also about what constitutes a rule and what is simply a working method whose rationale is lost in the mist of time.
Almost always, decisions on new working processes will be matters of procedure and, if taken at the level of a formal decision, by virtue of article 27(2) of the Charter, would not be subject to the veto. However, Council members seem conscious that voted procedural decisions could prove to be pyrrhic victories, especially if the purpose of a new innovative procedure is to achieve constructive substantive solutions in a specific situation on the agenda. The reality is that any substantive outcome would always be subject to veto and, as a result there seems to be a preference for developing new ad hoc procedural approaches by consensus.
A final observation touches on the issue of unforeseen consequences arising from informal generic reform of working methods. A particular example is the change which occurred incrementally over the past decade in working methods relating to the Council’s programme of work and related practices involving Informal Consultations.
A first point is that looking back now, in 2010, no one seems to know why the changes were made. No decisions or reasons were ever recorded. Indeed it is possible that the changes may never have been decided in any official sense.
In the 1990s, and earlier, the “Provisional Programme of Work”, as we now know it, did not exist. It only existed as a very tentative planning tool shared between the Secretariat and the incoming Council president. It certainly had no agreed status. It was sometimes shown to other Council members on request, but it was never circulated and publicised as at present.
The Provisional Rules of Procedure, in Rule 1, clearly places responsibility for the schedule of meetings of the Council solely in the hands of the President. They do not require the President to secure agreement. However, it was customary for presidents, on the first day of the month, to hold bilateral consultations with the other 14 Council members to discuss scheduling options. But it was understood by all that the final decision lay with the President. The flexibility entailed in this procedure seemed to be valued by all Council members.
At that time, there was little need to consult about scheduling Informal Consultations of the Whole since, in the 1990s at least, Informal Consultations were held almost every day and often both morning and afternoon. They were not preprogrammed as at present. Nor were the meetings limited to specific previously agreed issues. Rather the consultations responded to the issues of the day and in particular to the daily high-level comprehensive situation brief from the Secretariat. The consultations allowed free flowing and strategic discussion. And they were the primary vehicle for negotiation of almost all texts to be adopted by the Council. Members tended to pick up negotiations where they had left off the previous day.
At some point over the past decade these working methods changed in ways which probably at the time seemed insignificant. It is unclear whether the consequences were foreseen and discussed. Perhaps it was a desire for more efficiency. Perhaps it was an interest in transparency. Perhaps it was simply an experiment to see if more time could be freed up for ambassadors.
The result of the changes might, in a technical sense, be more efficient. A lot of the work is now delegated to experts. Theoretically ambassadors should have more time. And some things are more transparent. For instance, there is a reasonably clear public picture set out in a calendar format of what will happen and when—at least as regards formal meetings and the Informal Consultations of the Whole. But it seems that the net effect in practice is a quite radical change to working methods. The following are some key features of the current practice:
1. The greater transparency may in fact be an illusion. There may be greater clarity about the timing and agenda of Informal Consultations. But there are widespread complaints that the consultations are no longer informal and are often as stilted as the formal meetings. And whatever transparency has been achieved is undermined by the fact that much of the important negotiations now take place at the expert level and there are much less transparent.
2. The scheduling for official Council meetings is now agreed in advance by all 15 delegations instead of being “at the call of the President any time he deems necessary…”—as set out in Rule 1.
3. Scheduling has now, de facto, shifted from the President to the 15 political coordinators acting collectively. Their conclusions are approved in Informal Consultations. In practice, therefore, the Council work programme is much more locked in and inflexible.
4. In addition to reaching agreement amongst all 15 Council members on the timing of discussions, Council practice now includes reaching agreement in advance on what may be discussed in Informal Consultations. This further locks the Council into a generally preprogrammed and limited set of discussions.
5. Footnotes have been introduced as a way to restore some flexibility for issues where there is uncertainty. But the footnotes must also be agreed and this often becomes politicised.
6. The cessation of the daily high-level comprehensive situation briefing from the Secretariat has meant that the Council members are less well informed about developments and also less able to respond quickly.
7. The result seems to be a radical shift in the capacity of the Council members to respond quickly and substantively to various situations or to take up strategic level discussion of issues in Informal Consultations as required by the needs of the day.
8. All this has no doubt also contributed to the fact that the Consultations have become less substantive and less interactive.
9. In the absence of the regular daily briefings, the very act of requesting a briefing has now, at times, become highly politicised, further complicating the capacity of the Council to act effectively.
10. It is always possible to raise an issue which is not in the agreed programme of work under “Other Business” but experience shows that doing so also often leads to the issue becoming politicised.
The Secretariat has tried to ensure that these changes remain, as far as possible, consistent with the Provisional Rules of Procedure. Thus the Programme of Work is always deemed to be “Provisional”. It always includes an option for “Bilaterals on Request”—although it seems that is now rarely used.
It is not the purpose of this report to advocate for or against any particular set of working methods either past or current. However, it illustrates that working methods can and do change, sometimes quite significantly, and that there are risks in ad hoc evolution, particularly if there is no traceable decision and if insufficient thought is given to unintended consequences.
3. Developments Since the Adoption of Note 507 in 2006
The presidential note S/2006/507 (note 507) adopted on 19 July 2006 was the result of a very active period of work, under Japanese leadership, by the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions. The Council approved the outcome of the Group’s negotiations which were set out in an annex to the note.
The annex comprises a list of 63 practices and measures aimed at enhancing the efficiency and transparency of the Council’s work, as well as improving interaction and dialogue with non-Council members.
Much of the note was simply consolidation of measures previously agreed by the Council on an ad hoc basis. However, it also contained several new developments. In particular, new measures were agreed on dealing with issues such as enhancing means of information regarding the Council’s programme of work; increasing interaction with international organisations; and facilitating input by parties involved in or affected by situations on the Council’s agenda and were reflected in the note.
Looking back at Council practice over the nearly four years since the adoption of note 507, it is noteworthy that several delegations have put a lot of energy and effort into follow-up and implementation of note 507. But it is clear that the results, in terms of implementation of note 507, have been at best patchy.
In 2007, the Council agreed to continue the practice of the Informal Working Group’s operating under a single chair for the duration of the year. This is an important working methods development in and of itself. It is also an acknowledgment of the ongoing importance of this matter for most Council members. Until 2006, the chairmanship of the Group had rotated from month to month, along with the Council presidency. The Working Group had, therefore, lacked continuity of leadership. Moreover, given the inevitable demands on the Council president’s time, it was frequently pushed aside. In early 2006, the Council decided to appoint Japan as chair for six month (S/2006/66) and then extended the chairmanship for the full year. This practice continued in 2007 when Slovakia was appointed as chair for the full year, and again in 2008 when Panama was appointed for all of 2008. In 2009 Japan returned to the Council and was elected to the chairmanship of the group for 2009. This was extended in early 2010 for the duration of the current year.
3.1 Post Note 507 Follow-Up by Working Group Chairs
Slovakia in 2007 focused on securing effective implementation of the practices set out in note 507. At the end of its chairmanship it held an Arria formula briefing whose results were contained in document S/2007/784 of 31 December 2007.
Throughout 2007, stimulated by Slovakia’s leadership, the Working Group held regular meetings addressing different aspects of note 507. Particular attention was given to measures whose implementation required cooperation from the Secretariat. (Out of 63 paragraphs of the note’s annex, at least 12 deal with matters which hinge upon the UN Secretariat.)
At the end of its chairmanship Slovakia drafted a letter to the Secretary-General that was subsequently agreed on by the members and sent by the Council’s president on 19 December 2007, highlighting several areas of note 507 on whose implementation Secretariat’s assistance was particularly needed. Those included:
submitting reports to the Council with sufficient time to allow members to prepare for their discussion;
notifying the Council early if delays in submission of reports were likely;
preparing written fact sheets if briefings given to the Council are not on the basis of a written report; and
structuring the reports in a uniform fashion to facilitate easy access to recommendations.
Towards the end of its chairing of the Working Group, in December 2007, Slovakia suggested holding an open meeting on Council working methods. No consensus among Council members on such a meeting could be reached. Instead it was agreed that an Arria formula meeting should be held. Three outside participants (including two former Ambassadors with past experience in the Council) were invited to make presentations. In the discussion, Council members focused largely on interaction by the Council with other actors, such as the General Assembly, troop contributing countries (TCC), regional groups and organisations, the Secretariat and the UN system more broadly. The proceedings were summarised in document S/2007/784.
The year-long work of the Working Group was summarised in a note of the president of the Council on 19 December 2007 (S/2007/749) which addressed three topics:
Informal consultations, specifically the issue of Secretariat participation in consultations; urging the Secretariat to provide more specific, from the field information on recent developments; and committing its own members to ensure adequate participation.
The technical issue of defining matters on which the Council is seized (see below, under Panama’s work and the section on the so called “Seizure List”).
The Annual report to the General Assembly (see below, under “Annual Report”).
In 2008, Panama held the chairmanship of the Working Group. Implementation of note 507 was also the focus but Panama chose to follow-up just a few discreet issues from the broad range of matters covered by the note. In particular, Panama wanted to clarify paragraph 49 of the note’s annex dealing with the procedure for the removal of items from the list of items of which the Council is seized and better defining the description of formats of Council meetings. During the year several Working Group meetings and a considerable number of smaller consultations were held.
In a presidential note issued at the end of 2008 (S/2008/847) the Council agreed to amend the procedure for removal of items from the seizure list by reducing from five to three years the period of Council inactivity on an item to qualify for deletion. Under the new procedure in January the Secretariat would prepare a list which would identify the items not considered by the Council in the previous three years and advise that member states would have until the end of February to ask the president of the Security Council for their retention, in which case the item would remain on the list for one additional year, unless the Council decided otherwise. (See below, under “The Seizure List”.)
Japan in 2009 chaired five meetings of the Working Group. The focus was on three broad themes:
Implementation of note 507 with priority on aspects where the implementation was less than satisfactory (a working paper with paragraph-by-paragraph analysis of the annex was prepared as a basis for this work and presented to Council members for comments at the end of 2009).
Streamlining the flow of Secretary-General’s reports to the Council so as to avoid delays which have caused considerable difficulties for the Council. In this context, the Working Group has also been looking into the Council’s own implementation of paragraph 12 in which it said it would consider setting the standard reporting periodicity at six months but which in practice has not been applied consistently since the adoption of note 507.
Consideration of informal meeting formats and of types of informal outcomes. Compiling a list of all formats used and analysing them was to be the first step.
A related issue is encouraging more interactive discussions in consultations.
In 2010, Japan was again elected to chair the Group and is continuing the work on these subjects with a view to reaching agreement on an updated note towards the end of the year. At press time, plans were underway to organise an open debate on working methods during Japan’s presidency of the Council in April.
3.2 Recent Developments on Working Methods Matters Not Addressed by Note 507
Note 507, specifically excluded working methods regarding sanctions committees and meetings with TCCs from its scope. It is important to record that some significant developments have occurred in these two areas since the adoption of note 507 in July 2006.
Since July 2006, the Council has taken a number of decisions regarding its handling of sanctions regimes.
In late 2006, its working group on sanctions—after several years of difficult negotiations interspersed with periods of deadlock—produced a consensus final document which describes key elements of the Council methodology for, and policy relating to, the design and implementation of sanctions. The Council’s reaction to the Working Group document was lukewarm. In a brief resolution the Council merely took “note with interest” of the best practices and methods suggested in the Working Group’s report. However, resolution 1732 did request Council subsidiary bodies to take note of the recommendations. It also terminated the mandate of the Working Group.
Also in December 2006, the Council adopted its first attempt at codifying measures on delisting persons subject to targeted sanctions and in resolution 1730 created a “focal point” within the Secretariat for receiving delisting requests.
In June 2008, the Council adopted resolution 1822, establishing more detailed listing and delisting procedures and mandated a review (by June 2010) of all the names on the consolidated list of counter terrorism sanctions’ targets.
In December 2009, the Council, in resolution 1904 which renewed the mandate of the Al-Qaida and Taliban Sanctions Monitoring Team, included significant changes designed to improve due process for listing and delisting, including creation of an Office of the Ombudsperson. At press time, an Ombudsperson had not been appointed.
ii. Relationship with Troop and Police Contributing Countries
Note 507 indicated that previous decisions and statements would continue to govern Council working methods relating to TCCs. However, the note did contain some references to TCC issues. In particular, in paragraph 31, the Council emphasised the importance of meetings with TCC at an early stage of the consideration of an issue.
By 2008, however, it had become clear that the ongoing failure of the Council to implement this decision to organise consultations at an early stage was becoming a major point of contention for TCCs. In 2009 several new developments took place. Firstly, improvements were made in the timing and quality of formal meetings with the TCCs. Those meetings are scheduled as closed meetings of the Council and had previously almost always been scheduled immediately before the adoption of a resolution regarding the operation in question. As such, the meetings tended to be pro forma, attended at low-level and did not involve substantive or interactive discussions.
The DRC crisis in late 2008 focused serious attention to the issue. Several TCCs had contingents in danger of direct attack by rebel troops. They were anxious to receive ongoing substantive information and be part of any discussions. In response to the situation, Costa Rica pressed for better interaction between the Council, the Secretariat and the TCCs. This fed into an increased focus on peacekeeping processes initiated jointly by France and the UK in January 2009, who also became much more supportive of TCC concerns and organised informal briefings, seminars and debates.
In 2009 Turkey also took up the issue of the relationship between the Council and troop and police contributors and organised a debate on the issue in June under its presidency. A presidential statement (S/PRST/2009/24) was adopted in August. It described recent Council efforts to deepen consultations with troop and police contributing countries and identified the need for earlier and more meaningful engagement with troop and police contributing countries before the renewal or modification of the mandate of a peacekeeping operation. Costa Rica, a country without any military forces (and therefore seen by many as a neutral broker), continued to play an active role throughout.
In 2009, Japan, in its capacity as chair of the Council Working Group on Peacekeeping, held five meetings of the Working Group with interested members at large.
Over the course of 2009 there was also some improvement in the scheduling of formal meetings with TCCs. Initially meetings had been convened only a few days before the adoption of the corresponding resolution. However, by the end of 2009 that space had increased to over a week in most cases.
Finally in 2009, in a symbolic but meaningful event in September, during his first visit to the UN, US President Barack Obama held an hour-long meeting with representatives of most of the twenty top troop and police contributors.
In 2010 there has been at least one case in which it appears that the trend towards earlier consultations with TCCs is at risk of being reversed. In March a meeting with troop contributors to the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) was held less than 48 hours before the adoption of a resolution rolling over the operation for two months, something some troop contributors explicitly argued against. This meeting which came at a time of serious political difficulties seems to be further evidence that the relationship between TCCs and the Council is still problematic. It also revealed the continuation of a persistent problem, low-level participation in the TCC meetings by Council members.
4. The August 2008 Open Debate on Working Methods
Working methods of the Security Council has continued to be a controversial issue in the minds of many of the UN membership at large. The adoption of note 507 was met with some scepticism with many waiting to see how it was implemented. In general, the interest in the note as such has not been very high. In the 2006 and 2007 General Assembly debates on the annual report of the Security Council the note was mentioned on a few occasions but usually only by elected Council members or by members of the Small Five (S5).
The Small Five—Costa Rica, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Singapore and Switzerland—had launched an initiative in the aftermath of the 2005 World Summit which called for modifications of Council working methods. They proposed a General Assembly resolution seeking better interaction between the Council and the membership at large. (For more details on the S5 initiative see below under Council and Wider Dynamics and also please see our 18 October 2007 Special Research Report on Security Council Transparency, Legitimacy and Effectiveness and our 12 August 2008 Update Report on Security Council Working Methods.)
In June 2008 the permanent representative of Switzerland, on behalf of the S5, formally requested a meeting of the Council which would be open to participation of interested UN members that would afford an opportunity for “an exchange of views on both the implementation of the measures contained in the Note by the president and on possible additional measures that would benefit the Security Council in carrying out its mandate”. The Council had only once in the past, in 1994, held an open debate on the issue of its working methods.
The initial reaction by Council members to the S5 request was reluctance. However, Costa Rica, an S5 country and an elected Council member at the time, and Belgium, the Council president during the month of August, took the lead in organising an open debate that was held on 27 August 2008.
The interest on the part of the UN membership at large was significant. The debate took both the morning and the afternoon sessions of the day. In addition to the 15 Council members, 29 member states at the time not on the Council spoke. (Had the 2008 debate been scheduled in a month other than August, the participation would have probably been higher.)
The concept paper prepared by Belgium for the debate suggested that it focus on the implementation of note 507 as the main theme and in particular suggested three areas: efficiency, transparency and interaction, identifying both the improvements achieved, as well as the challenges that still needed to be tackled.
Speakers generally focused on these three areas, but in the course of the debate some new themes emerged and several recommendations were put forward. Recommendations to the Council included:
conducting an open debate on working methods once a year or at the very least once every two years;
issuing the assessments of Council presidencies—done by each past president and regularly issued as Council documents—also as General Assembly documents;
asking the Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions to conduct a formal review of note 507;
including in the Council’s annual report to the General Assembly information on situations brought to the Council during the year but on which no decision was made;
periodically issuing statistics on decision making process of the Council;
announcing Council expert level meetings in the UN Journal;
establishing substantive periodic meetings with presidents of principal organs of the UN; and
more access to the Council for civil society.
During the 18 months that passed since the debate, there has been no systematic effort to follow-up these new ideas and it is probably fair to say that in general, they have not been acted upon by members of the Council.
The Council has, however, devoted considerable attention to several issues stemming from note 507 that were also highlighted by members at large during the August 2008 debate (see below). And perhaps the most significant effect of the debate may be the fact that, an item Implementation of the note by the President of the Security Council (S/2006/507) has formally been added to the Council’s agenda and has since been listed on the periodically issued “Summary statement by the Secretary-General on matters of which the Council is seized”.
5. Implementation of Note 507
During the August 2008 debate a few aspects of note 507 came into view as the leading concerns for the membership at large and also for some of the Council members. Along with some additional issues they merit a more detailed discussion.
5.1 Formats of Council Meetings
Note 507, in paragraph 35 of the annex, describes various formats for Council meetings. (It is by far the longest paragraph of the annex, taking up close to 850 out of the total of some 4,900 words of the note’s list of practices and measures.)
During its 2008 chairmanship of the Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions, Panama attempted to get agreement on further systematising the formats for Council members. It compiled a chart mapping both the existing, well established, as well as newly emerging formats. For each format, the document provided details such as who is able to attend, whether or not official record is kept, who is able to intervene and what type of a venue the meeting is held in. But there was a strong reluctance especially among some permanent members to locking in possible meeting formats in such a precise way. No agreement was reached by the time Panama left the Council at the end of 2008. At this time of writing, Japan is continuing the work on this issue, working on creating a more descriptive compendium of formats used over the years.
The issue of formats for Council meetings was among the key themes raised both during the 1994 and the 2008 open Security Council debates, as well as throughout the discussions of Council working methods over the years.
In the 1994 debate many delegations had focused mainly on what they saw as an excessive use of Informal Consultations (a relatively new practice at the time) as opposed to meeting in public. In 2008 the debate showed that concerns about the Informal Consultations continued to be raised but the discussion focused more on different types of meetings, as well as procedures for notifying the membership at large about meetings taking place and affording the wider membership opportunities for input into Council outcomes.
Costa Rica, during the August 2008 debate, argued that the current Council practice in fact inverts the language of the norm contained in Rule 48 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure which says “Unless it decides otherwise, the Security Council shall meet in public”. Costa Rica suggested that it should be up to the members of the Council who prefer a private format to argue for the need to use a private format case-by-case rather than the burden falling on those interested in holding a meeting in public. During its subsequent presidency of the Council in November 2008, Costa Rica sought to schedule nearly all meetings of the Council as public meetings, sometimes to the consternation of several permanent members. What this experience seems to suggest is that leadership by the Council president can play an important role in determining case-by-case just how transparent Council meetings will be.
In contrast to the concern expressed in the debate by some non Council members that the informal consultations format had taken over all the interesting Council business, it seems that the view from the inside is somewhat different. Members of the Council (both permanent and elected) have been raising concerns in recent years that in fact informal consultations have been becoming less and less substantive and increasingly useless as a means of conducting informal strategic discussions and negotiations. Members have been pointing out that these meetings were no longer interactive, that outcomes were already determined ahead of the meeting and that members mostly gave prepared speeches. During its presidency in February 2010 France made a determined effort to revitalise informal consultations but it seems that it was an uphill struggle.
The fact that informal consultations have become ritualised seems to be related to a trend for the Council members to delegate consultations on most issues to lower level meetings of experts. In effect this produces even deeper layers of informality and confidentiality. Most substantive negotiation meetings now seem to occur in groups of experts and even outside of the UN premises. There are growing concerns coming from Council members that current practice produces only ritualised exchanges at ambassadorial level and militates against strategic in-depth discussions of situations on its agenda.
A considerable amount of the time spent on discussing working methods has been devoted to the format of debates and open debates. In recent years open debates have become more frequent, usually with more than one, and sometimes several, being held in the course of every month. The majority of these open debates in which states other than Council members are invited to participate have focused on themes rather than situations on the Council agenda. UN members at large have generally welcomed this opportunity to participate in Council debates, but over the years, several concerns have been raised.
Within the Council, members have been somewhat split on the desirability of holding thematic debates. Almost all Council members, including the Permanent Five (P5), currently accept the usefulness of holding some thematic debates, (especially on certain ongoing issues such as children and armed conflict; women, peace and security; or overall protection of civilians matters). In the past some thematic debates, especially those on new themes (and usually initiated by elected members during their presidencies) were resisted by some P5 members. They complained that such debates were consuming too much of the Council’s energy and time and noted that thematic debates were sometimes proposed not so much out of concerns about international peace and security but rather because of member states’ domestic political considerations or because a thematic debate provided an opportunity for the Council to be chaired by the country’s foreign minister thus garnering considerable amount of both domestic and international media exposure. Some privately expressed the view that certain thematic debates risked turning the Council debate into a seminar or a workshop.
In the past year or so some of the criticism has receded. Presently, most Council members support the need for thematic debates provided they are outcome-oriented and conducted in a way that would avoid reducing them to being lengthy pro-forma exercises.
Another criticism of some thematic debates came from outside the Council based on concern about possible encroachment on the areas of work of other UN bodies.
A further issue for the membership at large is the matter of notification. General Assembly members have pointed out that in order to prepare a meaningful contribution to an open debate, be it situation specific or thematic, advance notice of several weeks is desirable.
Another concern related to open debates, raised as long ago as the 1994 debate, is that open debates often did not provide a credible opportunity to feed into the Council decision making process. Not all debates result in any decisions, but when they do, the draft of a resolution or a presidential statement tends to be finalised before the debate and adopted at its conclusion (and on occasion adopted even prior to the open debate, as was the case, for example, in December 2009 during an open debate on drug trafficking). This is seen as lacking respect for the views presented by members at large whose contributions to Council outcomes is perceived to be ignored.
In 1994, one of the main topics in the debate was the French proposal for public orientation debates to be held at the time when the Council is beginning to consider an important issue to afford members at large an opportunity to express their views, as well as one to hear public exchanges of views between members of the Council. While initially there was considerable interest both within and outside the Council, this idea never really took off the ground. Initially, several such debates were held on specific country or regional situations but after 1996 this practice appears to have died out. Note 507 reaffirmed the Council’s commitment to holding more open meetings, “particularly at the early stage in its consideration of a matter”. This has not been implemented.
Another meeting format that also disappeared in recent years and which while not allowing for active participation nevertheless afforded members at large a better window into the functioning of the Council as a whole, is the wrap-up session. The idea emerged in 2001 as a response to the concerns about accountability and the availability of information out of the Council. Thus members agreed that interactive wrap-up sessions at the end of a presidency would be useful. Between 2001 and 2005, thirteen such sessions were held, some of them in public, some in private. Without ever a decision being taken to discontinue this practice, the wrap-up sessions disappeared completely. In March 2005, when Brazil held the presidency, it organised a wrap-up meeting at the end of the month. No further wrap-up debates have ever been held. During the 2008 open debate on working methods there was a proposal to reinstate them, perhaps replacing some of the thematic open debates that most presidencies tend to hold.
5.2 Recent Innovations in Formats
The procedural issue of the particular format for a specific meeting is often the topic of long and complex negotiations among Council members. In some cases these procedural discussions are reflective of deep political divisions. The procedural decisions reached result from painstakingly negotiated compromises but sometimes they also result in creative and innovative new approaches and in effect create new working methods. Some recent examples include:
In early 2009 the Council evolved a new format which it referred to as an “informal interactive discussion.” It was first used in February 2009 when a delegation of the AU and the League of Arab States wanted to meet with the Council to discuss the International Criminal Court (ICC) issue. Some members were opposed to a formal Council meeting on this matter because of procedural concerns relating to the way the Council should interact with other international organisations. Others pressed strongly for affording the visiting delegation, already in town, some form of interaction. On 12 February 2009 an event was held in a conference room (as opposed to the Council meeting room). It differed from Arria formula meetings (which are also held in the conference rooms) because, unlike Arria meetings, there were no participants other than members of the Council and the two organisations.
On 26 March, 22 April, 30 April and 5 June the Council further evolved the informal interactive format. There was strong political pressure for discussing the humanitarian crisis caused by the military offensive that had trapped thousands of civilians in a remote area of Sri Lanka. The contentious point was that some members were strongly opposed to creating the appearance that Sri Lanka was becoming a formal agenda item of the Council (something vigorously opposed by the country’s government). On the other hand, the view was held by most other members that the Council could not be seen as ignoring the crisis. The compromise was that the new format would be called “informal interactive dialogue”. The “dialogue” dimension became central to the agreement which was reached since it gave Council members a vehicle for an informal substantive discussion with Sri Lanka. Past Council working methods had made it virtually impossible for Council members and a concerned country to be at the same table for informal discussions.
On 22 March 2010 the Council further evolved this format, using it for an important informal dialogue with Chad to relay serious concerns from Council members to the ambassador of Chad regarding the future of the MINURCAT peacekeeping mission.
In late 2007 a new format, nicknamed the “Kosovo model” emerged and has since been used on several occasions, for issues such as Georgia, the ICC‘s work in Sudan or the report of the AU High Level Panel on Darfur. The event is usually marked on the programme of work as “private debate.” Member states can attend but only if invited by the Council following a formal letter of request to the Council president. In accordance with the Provisional Rules of Procedure governing private meetings, there is no provisional record from the meeting (and no webcast). Only a communiqué is issued. During the 2008 open debate on working methods and the 2009 General Assembly debate on the Council annual report, Belarus proposed “providing for, in addition to what exists, a new format of meetings, one that its closed to the press and NGOs but is open to delegations.”
A recent new format used by the Council members at the expert-level meetings (and which has been described by participants as particularly useful for addressing substantive issues) has been the practice of holding meetings between Council members’ political and military experts and the Secretariat prior to mandate renewals of specific operations to improve the shared analysis of operational challenges (this has been described and further encouraged in the Council’s presidential statement on peacekeeping operations in August 2009 (S/PRST/2009/24).
A further development relates to the effective use of information technology in seeking to be better informed about events on the ground in countries on its agenda. In February 2010, officials with the UN Organization in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), briefed Council experts from Kinshasa in a closed experts meeting via video-conference.
The Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) country-specific configurations have evolved some useful models for both the interaction with other organs, as well as models for designing meeting formats. The Security Council is yet to apply any of those techniques but the PBC’s country configurations chairs have regularly been invited to participate in the Council’s consideration of those countries, and their participation has generally been praised by Council members as enhancing the substance of discussions.
The Council subsidiary bodies have begun to experiment with new working methods, in particular inviting specific groups of members at large to discuss an area of work. For example, the Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions informally met with the S5 in July 2009. The Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations met with TCCs five times throughout 2009. And the 1540 Committee invited wide participation to an event to review its operations in the fall of 2009.
The experience, especially in 2009, suggests that the Council can be both creative and flexible when a situation necessitates a new tool for handling a particular situation, such as a visiting high-level delegation or conflicting pressures regarding an unfolding crisis. This may in part explain the reluctance to produce strict codification of formats.
It is not surprising that this process of evolution which has been experimental and often driven by intense political interests has been obscure and resulted in the lateness of announcements regarding the agreed format, causing considerable inconvenience at times to some among the UN membership at large. Some have pointed out that this had a serious impact on their ability to contribute to the Council’s work or to even simply follow developments on issues of particular interest to them. During the August 2008 debate there were suggestions that the Council announce the format for each meeting at least 48 hours ahead of time and that the usage of a particular format be explained.
5.3 Input from Concerned Parties
Note 507, in paragraph 42 of the annex, stated that “The members of the Security Council intend to continue to informally consult with…interested Member States, including countries directly involved or specifically affected, neighbouring States and countries with particular contributions to make, as well as with regional organizations and Groups of Friends…”. Additional paragraphs addressed the types of meetings in which the concerned actors could participate, and in paragraph 29 it stated that among them, those who have a direct interest in the outcome of the matter under consideration may speak prior to Council members, if appropriate.
The need for the Council to hear directly from parties involved in or affected in a particularly serious way by the situations on the Council’s agenda and for such parties to participate effectively in Council discussions was probably the most frequently raised issue during the 2008 open debate on Council working methods.
The concern about parties to conflicts on the Council agenda or states specially affected by measures adopted by the Council being able to present their views and participate directly has been a deep ongoing matter for many years.
In 1994, the permanent representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a state involved in a conflict that at the time consumed a significant portion of the Council’s energy and time, made a particularly forceful case, describing how for weeks there had been rumours about a particular resolution with important measures related to that conflict. “Time and time again, my delegation and others must wait to see how the hundreds of thousands of civilians of our countries will be dealt with by the Security Council”, he said. He declared “…we would most enthusiastically welcome initiatives providing for open debates for all Members of this Organization, but it is important that interested Member States be allowed to make their input available, not as an afterthought to deliberations, but as a valuable resource to be utilized at the beginning of deliberations”.
On the other hand, however, some members of the Council raised concerns about the risk that…”open meetings…could become an occasion for aggrieved parties to play out their differences and consequently detract from the effective conduct of the business of the Council”.
In the 2008 debate, no Council member challenged the usefulness of affording opportunities for the Council to hear parties to the conflicts on its agenda as well as member states particularly affected by measures adopted or contemplated by the Council. Members of the Council, both permanent and elected, as well as the members at large participating in the debate, argued that the Council needed to hear from the parties in order to be able to make proper decisions and ultimately, to be more effective. (Some referred to note 507 which states “members of the Security Council intend to seek the views of Member States that are parties to a conflict and/or other interested and affected parties”.) Some specific proposals were put forward in the open debate:
Allowing states’ parties to a conflict to appear before the Council at all stages of the proceedings concerning them, including at the drafting stage.
Having parties to the conflict participate in both public meetings and confidential ones, depending on the situation and need.
Extending the use of rule 39 of Council’s Rules of Procedure (which says “The Security Council may invite members of the Secretariat or other persons, whom it considers competent for the purpose, to supply it with information or to give other assistance in examining matters within its competence”) to apply to parties to a conflict who are not member states.
Using questions-and-answers formats for meetings with concerned parties.
Affording states particularly affected by a conflict without necessarily being a party to it (such as neighbouring states) or affected by measures imposed by the Council (such as sanctions) to address the Council.
A related important and often thorny issue appears to have been the order of interventions in debates. Several members—both within and outside the Council—have argued that the practice of having the 15 Council members speak first resulted in ambassadors leaving the meeting and the countries most affected having to speak primarily to lower level diplomats. A provision in note 507 suggests that on situation-specific issues, actors directly affected or particularly interested should be allowed to speak before the Council members.
There has been some gradual change in Council practice in the period from the adoption of the note. On at least one occasion when Council members did speak first this was challenged with a Council member invoking note 507 and arguing that the country concerned should have been allowed to speak before members of the Council. (In a debate on Iraq in April 2008 (S/PV.5878) the permanent representative of Costa Rica made a point that consistent with paragraph 29 of the annex to note 507, the representative of Iraq should speak first.)
But perhaps of greater importance has been the development in 2009 of working methods such as the informal interactive dialogue described above, which allowed Sri Lanka to participate directly in a series of informal discussions among the members of the Council and which was reflected in March 2010 in an informal interactive event with Chad.
5.4 Working Methods Used for Interaction with International and Regional Organisations
The question of Council working methods in its interaction with international and regional organisations has become an important issue. Note 507 reflects this issue in paragraph 30 of the annex which says, “In line with paragraph 170 (a) of the 2005 World Summit Outcome (General Assembly resolution 60/1) and Security Council resolution 1631 (2005), the members of the Security Council agree to continue to expand consultation and cooperation with regional and subregional organizations, including by inviting relevant organizations to participate in the Council’s public and private meetings, when appropriate”.
Chapter VIII of the UN Charter outlines the important contribution of regional organisations to international peace and security, but it was not until the early 1990s that the Council began focusing on the usefulness of regional bodies in implementing the Charter. Initially, the Council approached this issue from a conceptual angle. In the early 1990s it asked the Secretary-General to recommend ways to strengthen the UN’s effectiveness in preventive diplomacy, peacemaking and peacekeeping. In response, the Secretary-General issued the seminal report An Agenda for Peace where he highlighted the role such organisations could play in preventive diplomacy, crisis prevention, peacekeeping and peacebuilding. The Council, in turn, in 1993 adopted a presidential statement in which it called upon regional organisations to consider ways and means of enhancing their contributions to the maintenance of international peace and security (S/25859). In a 1994 presidential statement (S/PRST/1994/22) focused on peacekeeping, the role regional organisations could play in resolving the conflict was highlighted. The Council indicated that one of the factors it would take into account in considering issues relating to peacekeeping operations was the regional organisation capacity. This was particularly relevant at the time given the UN interactions with NATO in Bosnia and the role Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was playing in Liberia.
Starting in the early 2000s, the Council began a more hands on approach by associating itself in a variety of ways with peacekeeping initiatives undertaken by regional organisations. In some cases it authorised existing operations by regional bodies (for example actions of the ECOWAS in response to the violence in Côte d’Ivoire in 2002 or the role that ECOWAS multinational force played in Liberia in implementing the June 2003 ceasefire). Sometimes it simply welcomed an initiative (such as the 2004 AU deployment of observers with a peacekeeping mission to Darfur). More recently cooperation with regional actors has become a much more key element involving first a Council decision to provide UN support packages to the AU mission in Sudan followed by the decision in 2007 to establish the first joint operation with another organisation, the AU-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID). In 2009 the Council decided to again authorise UN financed logistical support to an AU operation, the AU Mission in Somalia.
From 2003 on, the Council also began to focus on this growing relationship through thematic debates and inviting representatives of regional organisations to participate. The 2006 note acknowledged this development and addressed some aspects. The Council agreed in note 507 to expand consultation and cooperation with regional and subregional organisations by:
inviting relevant organisations to participate in the Council’s public and private meetings;
informally consulting with regional organisations when drafting resolutions, presidential statements and press statements; and
drawing the attention of regional organisations and arrangements to relevant resolutions, presidential statements and press statements or decisions of the Council.
The Council has interacted in a variety of ways with a number of international and regional actors including NATO, ECOWAS, the EU, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), or the League of the Arab States. In January 2010, on China’s initiative, the Council held a debate to which it invited representatives of the AU, ASEAN, the EU, the League of Arab States, NATO, Organization of American States; Organisation of the Islamic Conference; Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe; the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the Pacific Islands Forum, to be among its participants.
Particularly important in this context is the relationship with the AU with which there are currently a number of joint initiatives, most notably the hybrid operation in Darfur, UNAMID. Starting in 2007, the Council members have had informal meetings with the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC). A pattern seems to be emerging for alternating their meetings between Addis Ababa and New York.
The nature of the interaction has, however, become a working methods problem. There has been some resistance, in particular on the part of some of the P5 to these developments and especially to the notion which is important to PSC members, that the events should be characterised as an interaction between the two Councils. This manifested itself during the May 2009 Council visit to Addis Ababa. A portion of the one-day meeting was spent on procedural wrangling because various differences had emerged between the two sides. African leaders had been eager to emphasise the growing relationship and therefore expected to be able to characterise it as a formal event. By contrast, some members of the Council strongly insisted that it was not in any sense a meeting between the two Councils. The most they could participate in was a discussion of the members of the Council in informal capacities. (On the eve of the meeting, the president of the Security Council, Russia, sent a letter to the AU insisting on the informal nature of the meeting.) At the end of the joint session, a communiqué was issued stating that the two bodies will “pursue their consultations on ways and means to strengthen their cooperation and partnership” with the next consultative event to be held in New York in 2010.
Several speakers in the 2008 working methods open debate brought up the matter of the relationship with regional and international organisations, though participants mostly talked about the overall desirability of further enhancement of the means for this interaction and relatively few specific recommendations were put forward. Those touched upon were the formats for interaction, the order in which representatives of international organisations would address the Council and international organisations’ input into Council’s decision making process.
The issue of speaking order—in particular a representative of a regional body speaking in advance of members of the Council—has also proven quite controversial. For example, when in March 2009 in a debate on Somalia, the Commissioner for Peace and Security of the African Union was invited to address the Council and spoke before the members of the Council, the Permanent Representative of France made a statement in which he expressed his “very serious reservations” about a regional organisation being given the floor before the members of the Council (S/PV.6095).
Some speakers also raised the question of the primary role of the Security Council and stressed the need for efforts to solve regional conflicts undertaken by regional organisations to only take place within the framework envisaged in the UN Charter and under the leadership of the Security Council.
5.5 Information in and out of the Council and Concerns about Transparency
Much of note 507 addresses directly or indirectly the ways in which the Council communicates with the outside world and the degree to which information about the Council is available and accessible.
There is a close connection between concerns about meetings’ formats and transparency and information about the Council. In 1994, at the time of the first working methods open debate, the era when Council mainly met in public was still in very recent memory, and many permanent representatives had personally witnessed, over the first few years of the 1990s, the change in Council’s modus operandi to mostly meeting informally. And thus, serious questions were raised as to whether the Council had gone beyond the reasonable need for informal consultations to a practice of effectively holding closed meetings in virtually permanent session. In 2008, most speakers were willing to accept that Council members needed to meet informally in private and that for some purposes, closed formal meetings were preferable to those held in public. But members continued to insist that the Council develop prompt, consistent, structured and predicable means of informing membership at large about the substance of its work.
Several of the 63 paragraphs of the annex to note 507 have to do with the issue of communication with members at large through briefings; announcement of various types of meetings in the UN Journal; early circulation of draft resolutions and statements; or notification of full UN membership about the Council’s emergency meetings. Several of these paragraphs restated much earlier commitments that had not been fulfilled in a consistent and predictable manner.
One such example is the issue of timely briefings for interested delegations on the substance of closed consultations. The need for such briefings emerged soon after closed consultations became the main format for conducting Council business, in the early 1990s. Countries outside the Council appreciated the fact that their colleagues on the Council started making an effort to keep the wider membership abreast of discussions. Elected members in particular started leaving the consultations room and conducting such impromptu briefings. Soon, pledges to regularly brief membership at large began appearing as part of states’ campaigns for elections to the Council. It seems that by 2010 this practice is much less reliant and less utilised—perhaps this is in part due to the factor mentioned above—the consultations have become much less interesting and effective. But the problem still remains, especially since the more interesting and substantive work has shifted further underground.
Another aspect of the issue is the wider interest in the Council presidents holding a briefing at the outset of the month about the work programme. Such briefings have taken place since 1994 but only on and off. Regular briefings at the beginning of each month have been held for the media by virtually all Council presidents since the early 2000s. But briefings for member states have been somewhat irregular, depending on the presidency.
It was clear from the statements in the 2008 debate, that there was still a concern about a lack of reliable information and at press time this situation remained unchanged. According to diplomats from different regional groups, members rely mostly on representatives of those groups on the Council for information about Council work (different groups have over the years developed systems for regularly briefing their membership about Council internal developments) but few, if any, of them seem to work in a satisfying way.
Accessibility of information about the work of sanctions committees is another issue. Over the years, the Council undertook several commitments related to its design and management of sanctions. Note 507 has several paragraphs on making sanctions committees more accessible to the membership at large (through regular publication of the schedule of their meetings in the UN Journal; through seeking the views of the membership on specific aspects, by publicising their decisions in press releases; or through briefings by the chairs of the subsidiary bodies). However, the practice has continued to be the topic of criticism on the part of membership at large. Delegations that sought access to specific sanctions committees have experienced difficulties and meetings of the sanctions committees are rarely announced in the UN Journal. But decisions by sanctions committees now tend to be publicised by press releases and the existence of web pages has improved accessibility.
Input to Council decision making has also been a consistent issue for member states wanting their views to be taken into consideration during the decision making process. Despite several commitments made by the Council to consult with members in a position to provide useful input into the process (states particularly crucial to implementation when sanctions are being developed, or parties to the conflict when solutions to that conflict are being put forward) the practice has been inconsistent at best and many member states continue to be sharply critical.
A related problem has been the connection between the views expressed in open debates and the corresponding Council decisions constituting the outcome of such debates. Several member states have pointed out that given that the draft decision is routinely prepared well ahead of an open debate, there is usually not even an attempt to pretend that the open debates contribute in a direct way to the outcome (indeed, on one recent occasion a presidential statement had been adopted at the outset of an open debate). One member actually suggested during the 2008 debate that the Council produce statistics on how frequently changes were made in draft decisions reflecting discussions in open debates. Another speaker suggested that in cases of thematic debates, the Council separate in time the debate from adoption of a related decision to allow for the views expressed to be reflected.
On several transparency and accountability related matters, the key problem for member states not on the Council appears to be the fact that whereas over the years the Council has undertaken several efforts to satisfy demands for greater transparency and overall there now exist several new methods of informing and involving membership at large, there continues to be a lack of consistency in resorting to these methods on the part of the Council and a lack of clarity as to what states can reliably count on.
5.6 Titles of Agenda Items
Related both to transparency and to the meetings’ format issue is the question of the Council characterisation of the Council agenda items. Formulations are often very difficult to decipher for almost everyone except those directly involved, such as, for example, a reference to a letter with only a date, sometimes from several decades ago, as the only designation of an item. (For example the agenda item under which the Council deals with all the issues related to one of the most complex peacekeeping operations, UNAMID, has always been listed as “Reports of the Secretary-General on the Sudan” because this was how Darfur was initially introduced on Council agenda back in 2004.)
Note 507 in the second paragraph of its annex acknowledged the “desirability, whenever possible, of using descriptive formulations of agenda items” but no significant improvement on this has been achieved since its adoption. Some members have been advocating the change. In particular, the UK during the August 2008 debate argued that the agenda of the Council should be self-explanatory. At the end of 2008, in a presidential note issued to mark the end of Panama’s chairmanship of the Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions, the Council restated “the desirability, whenever possible, of using descriptive formulations of agenda items at the time of their initial adoption” and said that “when such a descriptive formulation exists, consideration may be given to subsuming earlier agenda items on the same subject under the descriptive formulation.” But little improvement has followed.
5.7 The Annual Report to the General Assembly
Over the years, the annual report of the Security Council to the General Assembly has been among the working methods aspects to which a lot of energy has been devoted. Accordingly, note 507 allotted a full section to the matter (paragraphs 56-60 of the annex), largely restating some previously reached understandings. (For more details, please refer to our 2007 Special Research Report.)
For years, the yearly debate of the General Assembly on the report of the Council has probably been the occasion when the Council receives the most concentrated attention from the membership at large. It is has also been one of the few regular opportunities for issues related to Council working methods to be raised (though in the last few years there has been a practice of combining this debate with the debate on the Security Council reform and this has resulted in discussion of the Council report receiving much less attention than before).
The issue of the report was acknowledged in note 507. The first paragraph of the note on the subject pledged taking necessary action to ensure timely submission of the report to the General Assembly. Yet in practice, since the adoption of note 507, the annual report has tended to be submitted even later than ever before—in November (and in 2006 in December) leaving little time between its adoption by the Council and the General Assembly debate for members at large to be able to analyse it properly.
In most discussions concerning the report, its introduction has been at the center of attention. The introduction had been until 2001 a short very technical piece that simply described what was contained in each of the sections and listed all earlier documents relevant to the annual report’s format. In 2002, as a result of intensive work and strong commitment by several delegations (Singapore in particular), it was agreed that the introduction would became an analytical piece, seeking to capture the most important moments in the year under review, assess the Council’s ability to deal with problems at hand and also signal difficulties and areas where improvements could be made. Members decided that the introduction from 2002 on should be drafted early and, accordingly, that the July presidency should prepare the first draft. Members would then adopt the draft in a public session that would allow for exchanges of views on the text. But whereas in 2002 the introduction was indeed much more concise and analytical then before, in the years since it more than doubled in length and quickly lost its analytical edge.
The only public debate by the Council on the adoption of its report took place in 2002. Afterwards, the report has always been adopted in a brief, routine session, with no debate.
Some important developments happened in 2008 and 2009 however. The delegations in charge of drafting the introduction, Viet Nam and Uganda, respectively for 2008 and 2009, made an effort to reach out to the membership at large and held informal briefings for member states prior to the formal adoption of the draft. They also made serious efforts to make the introductory section more analytical again. This represents an important step towards implementation of note 507.
On the other hand, one adverse implication of current working methods also became clear in recent years. Since 2002, each time when the drafting was done by an elected member, it was a delegation in its first year of Council membership to which the responsibility fell. Because of the reporting cycle (August/July) not matching with the cycle of terms of office of elected members (January/December), in every case this meant that the country in question had not been on the Council for the first five months of the period it was reporting about. (The report covers the period from 1 August through 31 July, with the July presidency being the drafter. Who that delegation will be depends on alphabetical rotation of the presidency and in the period since this new system was instituted, with the exception of three years when permanent members held the July presidency, the authors were the following member states in their first year on the Council: 2003-Spain; 2004-Romania; 2005-Greece; 2008-Viet Nam; and 2009-Uganda. In 2010, Nigeria, a member of the Council since January, will again have to draft the annual report’s introduction and will have to cover a period of five months when it was not even on the Council.
5.8 The Seizure List
The so-called “seizure list” is the list of items which the Council has formally included on an agenda for a formal meeting and of which it has decided to remain “seized.” The Secretariat publishes this list every month, with weekly updates. Some of these items have been on the list for decades and some items on the list had long been considered obsolete and the list unnecessarily cluttered.
Note 507 in paragraph 49 of its annex stated, “The Security Council agrees to continue to delete, with the prior consent of the Member States concerned, matters which have not been considered by the Council…” and outlined a new procedure under which the January statement by the Secretary-General of the items with which the Council is seized, would identify the items to be deleted from the list. It would be all the items not discussed in the previous five years. States would then have a deadline by which to notify the president of the Security Council if they wanted certain items to be retained on the agenda.
Slovakia began work on this aspect of the implementation of note 507 as part of its focus on Secretariat-related elements of the note. After the procedure was applied in 2008, the list was reduced by five items. Panama, in 2008, decided to continue these efforts and made the “seizure list” the centre of attention during its chairmanship of the Working Group.
In a presidential note issued at the end of 2008 (S/2008/847) the Council agreed to reduce from five to three years the period in which an item was not considered by the Council to qualify for deletion. The January list would identify the items for deletion and member states would have until the end of February to ask the president of the Security Council for their retention. In the event of a request for retention, the item would remain on the list for one additional year, unless the Council decided otherwise.
In practice, therefore, the first list issued in March each year should reflect how many items have been retained on the list due to member states’ requests and present the new full list of the items of which the Council is seized.
In 2009, 106 items were on the list published in January. Forty-seven of these were identified as qualifying for possible deletion. The first list issued in 2010 showed that only 84 items were listed meaning that the 23 agenda items had been dropped from the list. These included several thematic issues, for example: HIV/AIDS and international peacekeeping operations; justice and the rule of law; role of civil society in post-conflict peacebuilding; role of civil society in conflict prevention; and the pacific settlement of disputes.
In 2010, the January list contained a total of 84 items with 27 identified for possible deletion. The list published in March stands at 82, meaning that two items were dropped.
6. Council Dynamics
It seems that in 2008 and 2009 the level of thematic activity within the Council on the subject of working methods has decreased (compared with the level of activity of 2006 and 2007). One reason may relate to personalities; the elected members involved in the earlier effort are no longer on the Council. Moreover, since the adoption of note 507 in 2006, even among the missions of the P5 there are very few individuals who served on the Council during the period leading up to the adoption of note 507. In the recent period it has been mainly in the area of country or issue specific developments that the results have been seen, especially the evolution of new meeting formats.
Overall, the areas of thematic working methods issues where there seems to be the highest sustained focus and interest involve elements of note 507 dealing with:
Council interaction with the Secretariat;
efforts to make informal consultations of the Council more interactive and substantive; and
a more efficient handling of the growing workload.
Permanent members have generally been more conservative—although even among them there is a spectrum of views. Most tend to feel that the Council alone should be the engine of any change in its working methods.
France and the UK have actively promoted some working methods changes, especially those related to better information, especially on peacekeeping issues, and the need for better sanctions methodology and improving the work of Council subsidiary bodies.
China seems more cautious, but has been forthcoming in its support for some working methods related initiatives and has acknowledged the S5 contribution to the efforts (S/PV.5968).
The US has cautioned against a thematic approach to reforming working methods. It fears that this will introduce rigidity and sacrifice expeditiousness in order to achieve an illusion of openness. It has also been pointing out that UN members at large have rarely taken advantage of the new measures afforded them by the Council, exemplified by low attendance of public meetings and low participation in other types of interaction with the Council. The US seems to prefer flexible capacity to evolve new working methods case-by-case to meet specific needs. But most recently, it played an active and constructive role on one thematic issue with important working methods elements—the revision of the design of the listing/delisting system for individually targeted sanctions under the Al Qaida and Taliban regime. It has also been supportive of practical measures aimed at revitalising and improving the interaction with troop and police contributors.
Russia has been guarded in its approach to changes in Council working methods. In a General Assembly debate on Security Council reform the day after the adoption of note 507, Russia cautioned, “We would like to stress that any initiative to improve the working methods of the Council not based on consensus and with the support of all members would not provide any progress in the comprehensive reform of the Security Council, and would not be a positive contribution to resolving the problem of achieving agreement on all aspects of Security Council reform” (A/60/PV.95). On the other hand, it should be noted that in the 2009 General Assembly debate on the Security Council annual report, Russia indicated that increased interaction with the General Assembly in areas such as peacebuilding, peacekeeping and mediation was both possible and necessary (GA/10886).
Elected members have displayed considerable interest in the issue of working methods. In addition to the work of the different delegations chairing the Informal Working Group in the period since the adoption of note 507, several other elected members played leading roles on different aspects of the issue (Costa Rica on the TCC relationship and the order of speakers, Belgium on the 2008 debate and Viet Nam and Uganda on the annual report introduction, to just give a few examples).
7. Dynamics in the General Assembly
Within the UN membership at large, the issue of the Council working methods comes up mostly in the context of the discussions of the annual report and in various meetings on the reform of the Security Council. Members have been somewhat divided. Some very much see it as part of the overall issue of Council reform. Others prefer to keep working methods issues separate from discussions about enlargement. (There has also been some talk about sequencing the addressing of both sets of issues.) Recently, the General Assembly combined the discussion of the Security Council annual report with the discussion of the reform of the Security Council. As indicated above, this has resulted in practice of considerably less attention being given to the Council’s working methods because speakers tended to focus more on the enlargement issue.
The S5 have been the most consistently active group on the working methods issue. The S5 group—Costa Rica, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Singapore and Switzerland—constituted in 2005, has focused specifically on Council working methods, arguing that regardless of the changes in the composition of the Council, the reform will not bring much benefit to large numbers of UN members unless it involves extensive changes in working methods.
The S5 have actively sought to engage the Council—it was their request to meet with the Council that eventually prompted the holding of the August 2008 open debate. In 2009, the S5 sought and succeeded getting Council agreement to an informal meeting with the Working Group on Documentation (in July). In November, they organised an informal meeting with Council members to discuss the Annual Report. This took place in one of the S5 missions. In late 2009 and in 2010 the S5 have also held a series of informal lunchtime discussions on aspects of working methods with elected Council members.
On the part of the general UN membership, the main areas of interest for improving the Council’s working methods can be categorised as:
improved format of meetings (with predictable and timely communication to the membership at large);
further development of more meaningful relationships with international organisations;
more effective opportunities for access and participation by actors who are parties to issues before the Council or are specially affected by them;
reinstatement of end of presidency wrap-up debates; and
further improvements in the process for input by TCCs into decisions related to the design of peacekeeping operations.
Regarding the annual report, suggestions include: making better use of presidents’ monthly evaluations to provide a narrative of how the work evolves month by month; committing to including concise information on the work of all subsidiary bodies; asking the Secretariat to include mentions of all resolutions considered by the Council in meetings, including those that were not adopted; and reviving the practice of holding a debate at the adoption of the report’s introduction.