What's In Blue

Posted Tue 23 May 2023

Update: Adoption of the Annual Report of the Security Council*

Next Tuesday (30 May), the Security Council is expected to adopt its annual report to the General Assembly, covering the period from 1 January to 31 December 2022. The adoption was initially scheduled for the afternoon of 24 May but was postponed to allow members more time to review the draft report.*

Brazil drafted the introduction to the report and is expected to present it to Council 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 transfers 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 UN 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 that the Council has to the General Assembly under the Charter.

The present annual report provides a factual overview of the Council’s work in 2022. The introduction notes the return of the Council to its regular working methods after the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. It also documents the number and types of meetings held, areas of significant Council attention, and the key resolutions adopted in 2022.

Over the years, the wider 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, the working methods around the Council’s annual report have improved. The latest presidential note on the annual report (S/2019/997), adopted in 2019, shortened the timeline for completing and adopting the annual report, stipulating that 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. The Council was also able to meet these deadlines in 2021 and 2022 despite the difficult working environment created by the COVID-19 pandemic, adopting the annual report on 27 May and 20 May, respectively. (For historical background of the annual report, please see our October 2020 In Hindsight; for an overview of recent developments, see our 2 May research report titled “Security Council Working Methods in Hard Times”.)

During the General Assembly meetings in which the Security Council’s annual report is presented, members have often raised concerns about the perceived weaknesses of the annual report. These include the largely descriptive approach and lack of analysis in the introduction. Such concerns were most recently raised during the General Assembly’s discussion on the 2021 report, which was held on 9 June 2022. At that meeting, Ecuador, which joined the Council this year, delivered a joint statement on behalf of the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) Group, that consists of 27 small and medium-sized states working to enhance the Council’s effectiveness by strengthening its working methods. In the statement, ACT members encouraged the Council to provide a “more complete, substantive and analytical accounting of its work to the General Assembly”. In this regard, they suggested that the report could include a description of draft resolutions that failed to be adopted and explanations of the reason for their rejection, including instances where a resolution was vetoed by a permanent Council member. ACT members in their statement added that the report could better reflect the record of Council members’ discussions conducted in informal formats, such as in meetings held under “any other business” or Arria-formula meetings.

In the last few years, it has been difficult to achieve agreement on a more analytical introduction for both substantive and political reasons. The divisiveness in the Council has made agreeing on the introduction more difficult and time-consuming. 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. The process around the issuance of monthly assessments, which has been difficult for the past several years, has apparently become even more complex in 2022. Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, discussions on adding references to Council meetings on Ukraine in the monthly assessments have apparently been problematic. There has also been pushback on including informal meetings in assessments, although this had been the practice in the past. According to the UN Security Council website, only nine of the 12 presidencies submitted assessments for 2022.

Despite the difficult dynamics in the past year, it seems that there was little disagreement on the substance of the report’s introduction, possibly because Brazil, as the drafter, kept to a factual account of the Council’s activities in 2022. Brazil circulated an initial draft of the introduction in February, and received four rounds of comments. An amended draft of the introduction passed a non-objection procedure on 5 May. It seems that several Council members suggested adding references to resolutions that were not adopted by the Council, including those which were vetoed by permanent Council members, as well as to General Assembly resolution A/RES/76/262 of 26 April 2022, which stipulates that the General Assembly will convene for a meeting within ten days whenever a veto is cast in the Security Council. Additionally, some members apparently sought to include more information about Council activity on Ukraine. No Council member objected to these proposals, and such information is included in the final draft of the report’s introduction.

Some of the issues around the substance of the introduction may again be raised when the annual report is presented to the General Assembly next month. However, turnout by General Assembly members at these debates is often low. In 2020, 37 members spoke when the meeting was held virtually at the end of August; in 2021, 28 members took the floor, and 25 members spoke at last year’s meeting. Issues surrounding the Security Council’s annual report have also been discussed as part of efforts aimed at revitalising the work of the General Assembly. For example, a 12 May workshop on the relationship between the General Assembly and the Security Council—which was organised by the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), Ecuador, and Portugal—aimed, among other things, to facilitate greater engagement of the wider UN membership in the debate on the Security Council’s annual report.


*Post-script (24 May, 8:30am): after the story’s publication, the adoption of the annual report was pushed from 24 May to 30 May to allow members more time to review the draft report. The story was amended to reflect the new adoption date.

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