What's In Blue

Posted Mon 28 Oct 2013

Annual Debate on Working Methods

Tomorrow morning (29 October) the Security Council will hold its fourth annual debate on Council working methods. Ambassador María Cristina Perceval (Argentina), the chair of the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions, will kick off the discussion.

The concept paper circulated by Azerbaijan on 17 October (S/2013/613) provides a succinct summary of recent developments in Council working methods, offering highlights from the work of the Working Group in 2012 and 2013, including suggestions to enhance the efficiency and interactivity of the open debates, improve the annual report of the Security Council to the General Assembly and enhance Council transparency by holding monthly wrap up meetings or informal briefings on the work of the Council at the end of month. The Working Group also reviewed the process of appointment of the chairpersons of the subsidiary bodies.

The concept paper also makes suggestions on the format and substance of the upcoming debate. It proposes that the debate “focus on issues of transparency, interaction with non-members of the Council, troop and police-contributing countries, regional and subregional bodies and relevant United Nations bodies and the overall efficiency of the Council, with the aim of identifying ways of improving these aspects.”

Within these areas, issues that member states are likely to raise include the role and the mechanics of appointment of penholders, the process leading up to the appointment of chairs of Council subsidiary bodies, interaction with the Peacebuilding Commission and its country configuration chairs and ensuring regular interaction by the President of the Council with the chairs of other relevant UN bodies. Members may also refer to the latest set of guidelines developed by the Working Group, dealing with the relationship between the Council and the troop and police-contributing countries (S/2013/630) which were agreed on 25 October.

Speakers are also likely to address the recently restored practice of holding wrap up sessions at the end of the month and argue for the usefulness of horizon scanning briefings by the Secretariat as an early warning tool to alert the Council to possible threats to international peace and security. (These briefings on emerging issues were held almost every month from November 2010 through March 2012 but have become far less regular with just two held so far this year: in June under the presidency of the UK and in September under the presidency of Australia.)

Speakers may also address the issue of the veto, a discussion which, with different degrees of intensity, has been ongoing for decades with suggestions being made that permanent members — in their individual capacities — pledge themselves to refrain from the use of the veto in certain situations. In the run up to the 2005 Summit Outcome Document, the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change called on “the permanent members, in their individual capacities, to pledge themselves to refrain from the use of the veto in cases of genocide and large-scale human rights abuses.” Following up on this recommendation, the Small 5 (S5) advocated for permanent members to “refrain […] from using a veto to block Council action aimed at preventing or ending genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.” More recently, a 4 October opinion piece published in the New York Times by the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius made informal reference to a possible “code of conduct” for the P5 to voluntarily restrict the veto under such circumstances except when their vital interests are at stake. This may spark renewed interest in this matter among tomorrow’s speakers. However, although the three China-Russia vetoes on Syria (S/2011/612, S/2012/77 and S/2012/538) have been described by UK Foreign Secretary William Hague as “inexcusable and indefensible”, and “despicable” by then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, it seems highly unlikely that any of the permanent members will advocate any change to the veto during tomorrow’s debate.

The previous annual open debates on working methods have generated a high level of interest among the membership at large with between 20 and 38 member states taking the floor in addition to Council members. Tomorrow’s debate will be the first one since the establishment of Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT), a cross-regional group of 22 small and medium-sized countries aiming at enhancing Council effectiveness through the improvement of its working methods. (The group comprises Austria, Chile, Costa Rica, Estonia, Finland, Gabon, Hungary, Ireland, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Maldives, New Zealand, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania and Uruguay.) Switzerland, as coordinator of the group, will make a statement on behalf of ACT. Several other ACT members are also likely to speak during the debate.

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