What's In Blue

Posted Tue 29 Jul 2014

First Public Wrap-up Session Since 2005

On 30 July, the Security Council will hold a “wrap-up session” for the month of July during which Rwanda held the Council presidency. The meeting will be held under the agenda item “Implementation of Note S/2010/ 507 (Wrap-up Session)” with the aim of enhancing the efficiency and transparency of the Council’s work. It will also allow Council members to exchange views on situations addressed during the month as well as on its working methods. This will be the first time since 2005 that a wrap-up session will be held in the public briefing format allowing member states as well as media and NGOs to attend. Among other things, a public meeting of this sort allows for a glimpse into the ongoing internal debate on Council working methods.

Between March 2000, when Bangladesh held the first wrap-up session and March 2005, there were 16 wrap-up sessions held in a combination of informal consultations, as well as private and public meetings. While in most meetings only Council members participated, in at least four of the meetings non-Council members or high-level UN personnel, including the Secretary-General, were allowed to speak. Also, while most wrap-up sessions in that first period were general in scope, a few focused on specific issues.

However, since Pakistan revived the practice of wrap-up sessions after an eight year hiatus in January 2013, these sessions have been held in the private meeting format, where member states –but not media or NGOs –could attend but not participate. In 2013, seven Council presidencies held wrap-up meetings, and five of the seven Council presidencies in 2014 have done so to date. Council members that chose to forego the wrap-up session include Australia, Azerbaijan, China, France, Jordan, Russia and the US. Reasons ranged from skepticism about the usefulness of this working method, the busyness of the calendar, to the agenda item already being used for an open debate on working methods.

By the end of month, the Council will have held 14 consultations, 9 briefings (including the wrap-up session), and one open debate in July. There were also four formal meetings held to adopt resolutions and presidential statements. This month there were also an unusually high number of “urgent” meetings called for, including three on the Gaza situation and two on the Malaysia Airlines flight 17 downing over eastern Ukraine.

Over the month the Council adopted five resolutions and three presidential statements. Two of the resolutions – on the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus and UN Assistance Mission for Iraq – were renewals of UN missions, while another two – on the Syria humanitarian resolution and on the downing of MH17 – were unexpected and a result of the Council reacting to developments. The fifth resolution was related to the open debate on peacekeeping. The three presidential statements were on Mali, the situation in Gaza and financial linkages between oil sales and terrorism. The Mali presidential statement focused on the recent adoption of a roadmap committing the government of Mali and armed groups to the Ouagadougou accord to hold formal peace talks and called on them to fully comply with their commitments. The Gaza presidential statement was negotiated over the weekend of 26-27 July and called for an immediate ceasefire. The presidential statement on illicit oil as a source of revenue for terrorists came about largely as a result of Russia pushing for its adoption and focused on the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham and the Al-Nusra front. In addition, the Council released 16 press statements. The press statements covered the situation in Gaza, fighting in Libya and Yemen, attacks in Afghanistan, the situation in Somalia, the downing of flight MH17, an agreement on cessation of hostilities between armed groups in the Central African Republic and a briefing by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa, Said Djinnit. Council members appear to be using press statements as a default outcome, particularly when there is a need for a quick response and it is clear that consensus on a stronger outcome would be hard to achieve.

Generally the wrap-up sessions since 2013 have allowed for discussion on issues covered during the month but rarely has there been a real assessment of how the Council handled particular issues or reflection on the effectiveness of its actions. There have also been attempts to look ahead at the following month, in a type of “horizon scanning” mode but some Council members were not comfortable with including a forward-looking element to these sessions. Given that it will be public, it is uncertain if Council members will provide a critical assessment of their work in July in tomorrow’s session.

Council members are likely to cover the Council’s relatively quick reaction to certain developments during the month. They may also focus on how the Council was able to come to an agreement on several issues- Gaza, Syria and Ukraine – where it had been difficult to get consensus in the past. However, it is less likely that Council members will be willing to discuss what they had to give up in order to get these outcomes. For example, while the Council was able to adopt a presidential statement calling for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, it was unable to grapple with the broader implications of the current military confrontation between Israel and Hamas and eschewed, largely due to concerns over a possible veto by the US, a vote on a draft resolution endorsed by the Arab League, the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation and the Non-Aligned Movement calling for a ceasefire and the end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Following the downing of MH17, the Council adopted its first resolution on Ukraine after 21 meetings, including one in the Arria formula format. The Council, however, did not attempt to address the larger issues related to the conflict. Although the Syria resolution was an important decision and a positive step, it too points to the trend in the Council of only being able to address a crisis in a piecemeal manner.

Since the wrap-up sessions were revived, some members, including most of the P5, have been critical of the usefulness of these meetings. There has not been, however, a consistent attempt to make the meetings more focused, or to use the opportunity to undertake a critical assessment of the Council’s work. Approaching these sessions as a “lessons learnt” opportunity might be a good way of making these sessions more useful in the future.

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