UN Security Council Working Methods

Posted 3 October 2017

Wrap-Up Sessions


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Wrap-up sessions first appeared Security Council practice in March 2000 when Bangladesh, the president of the Council for the month, decided to invite the Secretary-General to meet with Council members in informal consultations to reflect on the work of the Council during the month and discuss follow-up actions. During the meeting, members engaged in an interactive discussion with Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In the words of the assessment of the presidency for the month, the meeting “provided an occasion to review the work of the month, discuss follow-up and reflect on the future course of action on some issues before the Council as well as other matters related to the Council’s work” (S/2000/670). Namibia followed suit during its October 2000 presidency, also in consultations and also with the participation of the Secretary-General.

During 2001, five of the 10 elected members held wrap-up sessions at the end of their presidencies. The format for wrap-up sessions changed to a public meeting as of 29 June 2001 when the Council agreed for the first time on an agenda item entitled a “Wrap-up discussion on the work of the Security Council for the month of June 2001”. The move to a public discussion was a response to concerns among the wider UN membership about the lack of transparency and accountability of the Council and the availability of information about its work. Member states agreed that holding interactive wrap-up sessions at the end of the monthly presidencies was a possible way of providing more information to the wider membership. Bangladesh scheduled the first public wrap-up session on 29 June 2001, with Annan attending and 13 Council members taking the floor. The aim of the meeting—and those to follow—was to assess the work of the Council, evaluate implementation of its decisions, highlight important decisions taken that month and allow for greater transparency of its work. It also allowed reflection on what the Council had not done during the month, what it had been hoping to achieve and how it could improve its work. Several Council members also used this opportunity to speak about Council working methods.

In the next few years, several presidencies—all of them elected members—conducted wrap-up sessions, with differences in format and content. As of August 2001, these sessions were held under the agenda item “Wrap-up discussion on the work of the Security Council for the current month”. (This agenda item was included on the “Summary statement by the Secretary-General on matters of which the Security Council is seized and on the stage reached in their consideration” through January 2009.) In 2002, Colombia, Mauritius, Mexico, Singapore and Syria scheduled wrap-up sessions during their presidencies. The number of wrap-up sessions decreased to three in 2003, held during the presidencies of Mexico, Pakistan and Syria, none in 2004 and only one in 2005, at the end of the March presidency of Brazil.

Some of the meetings in the 2000-2005 period were held in public and others in private with the attendance of non-Council members. Those held in public allowed a rare glimpse into and a written record of the ongoing internal debate on working methods. While in most meetings the participants were Council members, in two of these public meetings, non-Council members were given the floor as well (S/PV.4748 of 30 April 2003 under Mexico and S/PV.5156 of 30 March 2005 under Brazil). In these two meetings the Council also invited then-Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Africa Ibrahim Gambari and the presidents of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council to speak. The two wrap-up sessions held in December in 2001 and 2002 were viewed as an opportunity for departing non-permanent members to summarise and reflect on their two-year terms in the Council. In the wrap-up session of 21 December 2001 under the presidency of Mali, the departing members were invited to address the Council first as they reflected on their time in the Council (S/PV.4445). In preparation for the wrap-up session of 20 December 2002, the president of the Council, Colombia, had circulated a concept paper suggesting that the discussion be focused on the full year and on the main dilemmas and opportunities for the Council in the coming year (S/2002/1387). The paper invited all member states to attend the public meeting and stated that the outgoing non-permanent members would speak first (S/PV.4677). 

Though most wrap-up sessions during that first period were general in scope, a few were focused on specific issues. For example, prior to the 28 August 2003 wrap-up session under the presidency of Syria, Council members agreed in consultations to focus their discussion on peacekeeping operations (S/PV.4818).

While it is hard to gauge the substantive impact of these wrap-up sessions on the Council, they afforded an opportunity to voice opinions on key working-methods concerns and other agenda items. In December 2001, for example, states emphasised the interaction of the Council with the troop-contributing countries and the relationship between the P5 and elected Council members (S/PV.4445). In the wrap-up session of March 2005, several states highlighted the importance of UN-AU cooperation (S/PV.5156). In November 2001, Ireland called for placing time limits on speeches in the Council chamber, anticipating what later became the norm in the Council (see S/2006/507).

Despite the discontinuance of wrap-up sessions after March 2005, there were intermittent efforts to revive the practice. Most notably, Brazil, on 26 February 2011, and South Africa, on 31 January 2012, held informal briefings with the wider membership at the end of their respective Council presidencies. In addition, during the open debate on working methods on 26 November 2012 (S/PV.6870 and Resumption 1), the Nordic countries stressed the need for “interactive wrap-up sessions at the end of each presidency”. Iran—speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)—said that the NAM “appreciates the holding of informal wrap-up sessions at the end of each presidency to evaluate what has been achieved”. Such sessions have also been encouraged by other member states in recent years as a means of increasing Council accountability and transparency. In response to this pressure, the note by the president on working methods of 12 December 2012, suggested that formal wrap-up sessions be organised when appropriate (S/2012/922).

After a nearly eight-year hiatus, Pakistan decided at the end of its January 2013 presidency to revive the practice by holding a private meeting on 31 January to which members at large were invited as observers (S/PV.6914 and S/2013/248). The wrap-up session was scheduled under the agenda item “Implementation of Note S/2010/507” and 28 countries attended, as did the Head of the Delegation of the EU to the UN. Pakistan was initially keen to have the wrap-up session as a public briefing, but there were some Council members—in particular permanent members—that preferred to keep it to a private meeting format.

A total of seven Council presidencies held such wrap-up meetings in 2013, with the UK in June being the first permanent member ever to use this working method. UN members at large showed a considerable degree of interest, with attendance ranging between 49 and 74 member states observing the discussion.

In 2014, nine Council presidencies held wrap-up sessions: Lithuania (February), Luxembourg (March), Nigeria (April), Republic of Korea (May), Rwanda (July), the UK (August), Argentina (October), Australia (November) and Chad (December). July’s wrap-up meeting was the first to be held in public since 2005, allowing UN member states as well as media and NGOs to attend (S/PV.7231). In the concept note provided ahead of the session and its statement during the session, Rwanda explained that the decision to hold the meeting in public aimed to enhance transparency and inform the larger public about the Council’s work. The president of the Council further stated that the session “shall be an opportunity for the Council to assess its work through country-specific situations and thematic issues considered during the month and to critically examine its progress on those issues, its processes and how it can increase its efficiency and effectiveness”. All the wrap-up sessions that were held in the remainder of 2014 were public.

Since 2013, some presidents of the Council opted to forego formal wrap-up sessions: Russia (March), the US (July), Australia (September), Azerbaijan (October), China (November) and France (December) in 2013; and Jordan (January) Russia (June) and the US (September) in 2014. The US and Australia in 2013 and Russia and the US in 2014 held informal briefings for member states at the end of their presidencies. The reasons for not holding wrap-up meetings ranged from scepticism about the usefulness of this working method (China, Russia and the US); the busyness of the calendar (Australia, France and Jordan) or the holding of an open debate on working methods under the agenda item used for wrap-up sessions (Azerbaijan). In October 2014, Argentina held both the open debate on working methods and a public wrap-up session during its presidency. Chile, the first Council presidency in 2015, continued the trend of holding a public wrap-up.

Unlike the wrap-up sessions held under the agenda item “Wrap-up discussion on the work of the Security Council for the current month”, by 2013 the agenda item was no longer on the so-called seizure list of agenda items before the Council. The item had been deleted as no UN member state had shown interest in it being retained. Instead, the 2013 wrap-up sessions were scheduled under the agenda item “Implementation of the note by the President of the Security Council (S/2010/507)” although neither the 2006 nor the 2010 version of note 507 made reference to wrap-up sessions.

Several Council members and non-members are supportive of conducting wrap-up sessions on a regular basis, as they provide insights into the work of the Council to the wider membership. In particular, they value the rare opportunity to hear first-hand about topics normally discussed in closed consultations or at the subsidiary body level. While some states support making these sessions public and allowing the wider membership to address the Council, others feel that the private meeting setting allows for more candid statements by Council members on sensitive issues. At the same time, several UN members hope that future discussions will focus less on summarising the agenda items dealt with during the month and, while looking ahead, provide a more critical self-examination and reflection on the performance of the Council.