UN Security Council Working Methods

Posted 10 January 2019

Penholders and Chairs


For a more in-depth analysis please see SCR’s research report on The Penholder System.

The charts below provide an update on Security Council chairs of subsidiary bodies as of January 2019 and penholders as of January 2018. The charts do not cover all the agenda items of which the Council is currently seized; rather, they focus on items with regular outcomes or those for which a subsidiary body has been established. For the full names of agenda items, please refer to the latest summary statement by the Secretary-General of matters of which the Security Council is seized (S/2019/10). The list of chairs of subsidiary bodies is contained in a 2 January note by the Council President (S/2019/2). 

Country-Situation Chair of the Relevant Council Subsidiary Body
Afghanistan Dian Triansyah Djani (Indonesia)
1988 Taliban Sanctions Committee
Bosnia and Herzegovina N/A
Burundi N/A
Central Africa (UNOCA/LRA) N/A
Central African Republic Léon Houadja Kacou Adom (Côte d’Ivoire)
2127 CAR Sanctions Committee
Central Asia (UNRCCA) N/A
Colombia N/A
Côte d’Ivoire N/A (The 1572 Côte d’Ivoire Sanctions Committee was dissolved on 28 April 2016.)
Cyprus N/A
Democratic Republic of the Congo Mansour Alotaibi (Kuwait)
1533 DRC Sanctions Committee
DPRK (Non-proliferation) Christoph Heusgen (Germany)
1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee
Golan Heights (UNDOF) N/A
Guinea-Bissau Anatolio Ndong Mba (Equatorial Guinea)
2048 Guinea-Bissau Committee
Haiti N/A
Iran (Non-Proliferation) N/A
Iraq Joanna Wronecka (Poland)
1518 Iraq Sanctions Committee
Lebanon Anatolio Ndong Mba (Equatorial Guinea)
1636 Lebanon Sanctions Committee
Liberia N/A (The 1521 Liberia Sanctions Committee was dissolved on 25 May 2016.)
Libya Jürgen Schulz (Germany)
1970 Libya Sanctions Committee
Mali José Singer Weisinger (Dominican Republic)
2374 Mali Sanctions Committee
Middle East (Israel/Palestine) N/A
Somalia Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve (Belgium)
751/1907 Somalia-Eritrea Sanctions Committee
South Sudan Joanna Wronecka (Poland)
2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee
Sudan Joanna Wronecka (Poland)
1591 Sudan Sanctions Committee;
Syria  N/A
Ukraine N/A
Yemen Gustavo Meza-Cuadra (Peru)
2140 Yemen Sanctions Committee
West Africa, including the Sahel N/A
Western Sahara N/A
Thematic Issues
Children and Armed Conflict Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve (Belgium)
Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict
Counterterrorism (1267 1989 and 2253) Dian Triansyah Djani (Indonesia)
1267/1989/2253 Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) (Da’esh)/Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee
Counterterrorism (1373) Gustavo Meza-Cuadra (Peru)
1373 Counterterrorism Committee
Counterterrorism (1566) Gustavo Meza-Cuadra (Peru)
1566 Working Group
ICTY and International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals Gustavo Meza-Cuadra (Peru)
Informal Working Group on International Tribunals
Non-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (1540) Dian Triansyah Djani (Indonesia)
1540 Committee
Peace and Security in Africa Jerry Matthews Matjila (South Africa)
Ad Hoc Working Group on Conflict Prevention and Resolution in Africa
Peacekeeping Léon Houadja Kacou Adom (Côte d’Ivoire)
Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations
Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict UK, Protection of Civilians Informal Expert Group
Women and Peace and Security Germany and Peru co-chair the 2242 Informal Expert Group on Women, Peace and Security
Working Methods Mansour Alotaibi (Kuwait)
Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions
Country-Situation Current Penholder in the Council
Afghanistan Germany and Indonesia
Bosnia and Herzegovina Rotating on a monthly basis among members of the Contact and Drafting Group (France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the UK, the US and current elected Council members Belgium and Poland)
Burundi France
Central Africa (UNOCA/LRA) UK
Central African Republic France
Central Asia (UNRCCA) Russia
Colombia UK
Côte d’Ivoire France
Cyprus UK
Democratic Republic of the Congo France
DPRK (Non-proliferation) US
Golan Heights (UNDOF) Russia and the US
Guinea-Bissau Côte d’Ivoire
Haiti US in consultation with the Group of Friends of Haiti (Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Guatemala, Peru, the US, Uruguay and Venezuela)
Iran (Non-Proliferation) US
Iraq US on Iraq; UK on Iraq/Kuwait
Lake Chad Basin UK
Lebanon France
Liberia US
Libya UK; the UK and Germany on Libya sanctions
Mali France
Middle East (Israel/Palestine) The US is often seen as the lead, but recent proposals on this issue have been drafted by various other Council members
Somalia UK; US on piracy
Sudan/South Sudan US
Sudan (Darfur) UK
South Sudan US
Syria Belgium, Germany and Kuwait lead on humanitarian issues
Ukraine There is no clear penholder for Ukraine. Both Russia and the US have drafted texts and other members have been active in calling for meetings on the issue.
Yemen UK
West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) Côte d’Ivoire
Western Sahara US
Thematic Issue
Children and Armed Conflict Belgium
Counterterrorism (1267 1989 and 2253) US
Counterterrorism (1373) US
Counterterrorism (1566) US
ICTY and International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals Peru
Non-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (1540) Indonesia
Peace and Security in Africa N/A
Peacekeeping UK
Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict UK
Women and Peace and Security UK on women’s participation and protection (resolution 1325); US on sexual violence in conflict (resolution 1820)
Working Methods Kuwait

Since the end of the Cold War, and with the dramatic increase in its activity, the Council has experimented with different ways to address its internal division of labour.

Drafting resolutions and chairing the subsequent negotiations has been one of the key chores of serving on the Council. The drafting of a resolution would often be undertaken by whichever member took the initiative to produce the text. Specific, recurring topics did not “belong” to a particular Council member. Sometimes, members with an interest in a given situation would join forces or, on some occasions, compete to produce a draft first in order to then chair the negotiations. Both permanent and non-permanent members routinely undertook the drafting.

As the number of items on the agenda of the Council increased, a more structured division of labour seemed necessary, and a system of Groups of Friends emerged within the Council. Members with stakes in, or a particular commitment to, an issue would come together to jointly draft resolutions on that issue, with both non-permanent and permanent members playing a leadership role (for example, Canada on Haiti or Norway on the Horn of Africa). These groups, moreover, often included non-Council members that had particular expertise on, specific commitments to or stakes in, the situations (such as Spain on Western Sahara, Germany on Georgia and Iran or Australia and New Zealand on East Timor) or had maintained their involvement beyond their stay on the Council (for example, Canada with respect to Haiti).

While generally efficient, the Groups of Friends garnered increasing criticism within the Council from both permanent and non-permanent members, although for different reasons. Some Groups of Friends still exist (including on Bosnia and Herzegovina, Haiti, Kosovo and Western Sahara), but in mid-2000 the Council began organising its work on particular situations around a lead country. Initially, those arrangements were fairly temporary and changeable and lead nations could be both permanent or non-permanent members (for example, Belgium led on Ethiopia-Eritrea in 2007 and 2008; Panama and Costa Rica co-led on Haiti in 2008; and Costa Rica led on Haiti in 2009).

One new approach in that period emerged during the lengthy negotiations in 2006 of resolutions against nuclear proliferation in DPRK and Iran. The P3 (France, the UK and the US) would take the lead in drafting a text and then negotiate it with the other two permanent members, China and Russia. Only after the P5 were in agreement, would the text be shared with the elected members, often quite close to the scheduled adoption.

By 2010, however, this approach extended to other issues. The P3 divided most situation-specific agenda items among themselves, assuming in each case the role of “pen-holder”. These arrangements have been informal and unwritten but, given these members’ permanent status on the Security Council, this leadership essentially remains unchanged.

Although this working method may seem logical in terms of efficiency, a side-effect of the pen-holder system has been a deepening negotiation and consultation gap between the permanent and non-permanent members. After the P3 agree upon a given draft among themselves and then negotiate it with China and Russia, the elected members receive the draft but are often discouraged from making meaningful amendments because this might disturb the sometimes painstakingly negotiated wording agreed to among the P5.

Furthermore, although the pen-holder system improves Council efficiency in some cases, it may at the same time have a negative impact on its effectiveness. To the degree that all members, permanent and non-permanent, see the pen-holder as the lead on an issue, they are in effect validating a default situation in which other Council members defer to the pen-holder. If a crisis arises and the pen-holder is either unwilling or unable to take the initiative (for example, because it is already managing other crises on the agenda), the Council may be delayed or paralysed from taking action.

As for the many subsidiary bodies established by the Security Council, with the exception of the Military Staff Committee and the Peacebuilding Commission, they are composed of all Council members. Although this has not always been the case, at present, all subsidiary bodies are chaired by non-permanent members. There have been exceptions with permanent members serving as initial chairs upon establishment of a new subsidiary body: the UK chaired the 1267 Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee in 1999 and the 1373 Counter-Terrorism Committee from 2001 to 2003; France chaired the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict from 2005 to 2008; and the US served as co-chair with Slovakia in 2006 of the Ad Hoc Committee on Mandate Review to conduct the review of Security Council mandates called for by the 2005 World Summit Outcome document. Furthermore, several subsidiary bodies currently have permanent members serving as vice-chairs, including Russia on the 1267/1989 Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee since 2007 and the 1988 Taliban Sanctions Committee since 2011; the UK on the 1540 Weapons of Mass Destruction Committee since 2005; and both France and Russia on the 1373 Counter-Terrorism Committee since 2008 and the 1566 Working Group since 2013. Within the many subsidiary bodies, some sanctions committees and the 1373 Counter-Terrorism and 1540 WMD Committees tend to be particularly active and demand significant investment of time and resources by the chair. Yet there is scant correlation between the penholders for the relevant agenda item and the chairs of the accompanying subsidiary body. As the penholders take the lead in drafting Council decisions, they normally “trump” chairs, notwithstanding the formal title and mandate of the latter. The chairs may not be consulted during the early stages of the drafting process of a resolution on the same country-specific situation and, in the case of some sanctions committees, even when the draft resolution concerns sanctions.

The chairs of the subsidiary bodies are appointed by the P5, following informal, usually bilateral consultations with the non-permanent members. In recent years, a different P5 has assumed the task of coordinating the consultations. Individual preferences of incoming Council members have been taken into account in some cases, though sometimes with an unintended result (eagerness to take on a particular subsidiary body may result in a different subsidiary body being assigned). In 2010 and 2014, an incoming Council member decided to forgo chairing a subsidiary body as a result of unhappiness with the way the matter was handled by the P5 coordinator.

For a few years now, some Council members suggested establishing a more inclusive, transparent and efficient method for the annual appointment of the chairs as well as a more inclusive system of penholders. In mid-2012, Portugal, as chair of the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions, started a drafting process for notes by the Council president to address the two issues.

On the chairmanship of subsidiary bodies, initial drafts called for an inclusive and transparent process to unfold during the last six weeks of the year that would involve all 15 Council members as well as the five incoming Council members, with the November and December presidents of the Council playing a coordinating role. At that early stage, there were also suggestions that all Council members should chair subsidiary bodies. Regarding penholders, Portugal also circulated a draft note by the President outlining a system under which all Council members would have an opportunity to be penholders or co-penholders.

After nearly six months of negotiations, on 17 December 2012 the Council issued a concise note by its president (S/2012/937) regarding the chairmanship of subsidiary bodies, stating that “in an effort to enhance the efficiency and transparency of the Council’s work, as well as interaction and dialogue among Council members”, members of the Council “support an informal process with the participation of all Council members as regards appointing the Chairpersons of the subsidiary organs from among Council members in a balanced, transparent, efficient and inclusive way, which facilitates an exchange of information related to the work of the subsidiary organs involved”. It furthermore said that Council members “should also consult informally with newly elected members soon after their election on the appointment of the Chairpersons of the subsidiary organs for the following year”. On penholders, no consensus was reached in 2012 and the proposal was abandoned.

Argentina took over the chairmanship of the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions in January 2013. In 2014, after months of meticulous work, two documents were agreed by the Working Group, addressing the issues of penholders and chairs of subsidiary bodies of the Council.

On penholders, a note by the President (S/2014/268) of 14 April 2014 proclaimed that members of the Council agreed to support “where appropriate, the informal arrangement whereby one or more Council members (as ‘penholder(s)’) initiate and chair the informal drafting process” of documents, including resolutions, presidential statements and press statements of the Council. The note specified that any member of the Council can be a penholder. The document also emphasised Council members’ commitment to enhance the participation of all members of the Council in the drafting process, including through early and timely exchanges and consultations, while continuing to seek informal consultation with non-Council members.

Regarding chairmanships of Council subsidiary bodies, a note by the President of the Security Council was issued on 5 June 2014 (S/2014/393). It stated that members of the Council should start “the informal process of consultations referred to in the note by the President of the Security Council of 17 December 2012 (S/2012/937) as early as possible after each election of members of the Security Council”. The note added that “Chairpersons of subsidiary bodies are encouraged to provide those members of the Council that will take over the chairmanship an informal written briefing of the work done during the outgoing chairmanship”. This briefing, the note continued, should be accompanied by documents adopted during the term of the outgoing Chairs as early as possible following the appointment of the Chairpersons “and during the period of six weeks immediately preceding the term of membership”. It further encouraged holding informal meetings between the outgoing and incoming Chairs. The note also stressed that it is the responsibility of the outgoing Chair to prepare the information to be transmitted to the new Chair.

The dynamic with respect to the penholder system possibly began to change in 2013. Elected members Australia and Luxembourg were instrumental in focusing the Council’s attention on the humanitarian aspect of the situation in Syria. Joined in 2014 by another elected member, Jordan, they drafted three resolutions on the topic that were adopted by the Council and had an impact on humanitarian access as well as prompted regular monthly briefings to the Council. As of early 2015, after Australia and Luxembourg’s departure from the Council, elected members New Zealand and Spain stepped in to join Jordan in pen-holding on Syria’s humanitarian situation.

The process of appointing chairs of Council subsidiary bodies in 2014 was similar to that of previous years, with one important distinction: it took place considerably earlier, allowing for a more meaningful handover between the outgoing and incoming chairs.

This table lists the agenda items of which the Security Council is currently seized with the designated pen-holder and, where applicable, the chair of the relevant subsidiary body. For the full name of the agenda items, please refer to the summary statement by the Secretary-General of 4 January 2016 (S/2016/10) and the weekly updates thereto.