Adoption of the Annual Report of the Security Council
Tomorrow (20 May), the Security Council is set to adopt its annual report to the General Assembly covering 1 January-31 December 2021.
France drafted the introduction to the report and is expected to present it to the members. The introduction of the report is prepared under the coordination of the Council’s July presidency from the previous calendar year, unless that member left the Council at the end of the year; in such cases, the drafting devolves to the member next in English alphabetical order and who is not leaving the Council at year-end. The rest of the report is prepared by the Secretariat and approved by the current members of the Council and immediate past members.
Under Article 24(3) of the UN Charter, the Security Council must submit an annual report to the General Assembly for its consideration. The submission of the annual report is the only clear obligation the Council has to the General Assembly under the Charter. Over the years, the UN membership has been critical of the lack of analysis in, and late adoption of, the Council’s annual report and has pushed for improvements.
As outlined in various presidential notes since 1993, there have been improvements to the working methods around the Council’s annual report. (For a historical overview of developments related to the annual report, please see our October 2020 In Hindsight.) The latest Note on the annual report, adopted in 2019, included provisions tightening the timeline for completing and adopting the annual report (S/2019/997). Starting with the report for 2020, the Council is expected to complete the introduction no later than 31 January and adopt the report by 30 May, “in time for its consideration by the General Assembly immediately thereafter”.
The 2020 annual report was the first to follow the timeline set out in presidential note 997. In 2021, the Council adopted the introduction to the annual report on 27 May, and the General Assembly discussed the report on 11 June. It seems that this year the introduction passed silence by the end of January, although the adoption is only taking place tomorrow. The discussion this year in the General Assembly is also likely to take place in June, as next month’s Council president (Albania) has apparently indicated a strong interest in presenting the report to the General Assembly during its presidency. (The task of presenting the report to the General Assembly traditionally goes to the Council president.)
The present annual report provides a factual overview of the work of the Council in 2021. It captures the Council’s half year of working virtually, and its return to in-person engagement over the second half of the year. The introduction highlights the number and types of meetings held, the areas of significant Council attention, and the key resolutions adopted in 2021.
During the annual General Assembly debates, members have raised concerns about perceived weaknesses of the annual report. These include the largely descriptive approach and lack of analysis in the introduction. During the negotiations on the report in the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Revitalization of the Work of the General Assembly in 2021, some members were keen to see inclusion of language on a more material and substantive Security Council annual report. However, it seems that other members, including a number of permanent members, did not agree. As a compromise, the Ad Hoc Working Group’s report adopted in 2021 refers to the timely submission of the Council’s annual report and recalls the General Assembly’s 1996 resolution (A/RES/51/196), which asks that the Council provide “in a timely manner a substantive, analytical and material account of its work”.
It has been difficult getting agreement on a more analytical introduction for both substantive and political reasons. Members are encouraged to draw on the monthly assessments of the different presidencies as primary material for drafting the report, but these assessments are often not submitted on time for the introduction drafter to use. According to the UN Security Council website, only seven of the 12 presidencies have submitted assessments for 2021. It seems that a number of other assessments are currently being discussed. The divisiveness in the Council in the last few years has made agreeing on the introduction more difficult and time-consuming. It seems that there was little disagreement with the substance of the introduction this year, possibly because France, as the drafter, kept to a very factual account of the Council’s activities in 2021.
Some of the issues around the substance of the introduction may again be raised during the discussion of the General Assembly following the presentation of the annual report this year. The Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group, which consists of 27 small and medium-sized states working to enhance the Council’s effectiveness by strengthening its working methods, delivered a joint statement last year. However, the turnout by members of the General Assembly is often low. In 2020, 37 members spoke when the meeting was held virtually at the end of August, but last year only 28 members took the floor.