What's In Blue

Posted Sun 10 Mar 2024

Working Methods Open Debate

Tomorrow (11 March), the Security Council will convene for its annual open debate on its working methods. The meeting will be held under the agenda item “Implementation of the Note by the President of the Security Council (S/2017/507)”, referring to the most recent version of the comprehensive compendium of working methods agreed upon by the Council in 2017, also known as Note 507. The expected briefers are Chair of the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions (IWG) Ambassador Kazuyuki Yamazaki (Japan) and Executive Director of Security Council Report (SCR) Karin Landgren. Japan plans to produce an analytical summary of the proposals made at the open debate.

Japan, which serves as March’s Council President, has circulated a concept note ahead of the meeting, which underscores the importance of “transparent, efficient and inclusive working methods” for the effective functioning of the Council in the current divisive geopolitical landscape. Japan has posed several questions in the concept note to guide the discussion:

  • How can working methods overall play a role in the Council’s fulfilment of its responsibility for maintaining international peace and security?
  • Are existing provisions being duly implemented? If not, how can we improve them?
  • To better address contemporary needs, what specific provision(s) should be introduced?

Tomorrow’s meeting is being held as Council members are negotiating an update to Note 507. The note was first produced in 2006 under Japan’s IWG chairmanship and updated in 2010 and 2017, when Japan was again on the Security Council and chaired the IWG. Japan views tomorrow’s open debate as an opportunity to receive inputs from the wider membership that could inform Council members’ deliberations as they update Note 507. Council members have held one round of negotiations and provided written comments on an initial draft of the updated note proposed by Japan and are expected to resume negotiations in April.

Ambassador Yamazaki is expected to brief members on the work that has been done so far to update Note 507. Since the current version of Note 507 was adopted in 2017, the Council has issued 16 presidential notes on working methods. Yamazaki may explain the rationale behind updating Note 507, including the need to incorporate the recent notes into one document, while streamlining and adding new provisions that convey the current realities of the work of the Security Council.

Landgren is expected to highlight the importance of working methods in allowing early engagement of the Council in obtaining information on situations that may call for conflict prevention. In this context, she may cover four approaches: making greater use of UN regional offices, in-depth Secretariat briefings, informal formats including closed Arria-formula meetings, and deepening engagement with regional organisations. Regarding cooperation with regional organisations, she may suggest ways of increasing engagement with the African Union (AU), especially in the context of resolution 2719 of 21 December 2023 on the financing of AU-led peace support operations.

The Council’s ten elected members (E10) have presented a joint statement at the annual working methods debate since 2019. This year’s joint statement will be delivered by Mozambique, the E10 coordinator for the month of March. The E10 statement may refer to the presidential note on penholdership, which was initiated by E10 members and adopted by the IWG in December 2023. The statement may also reiterate the E10’s views on transparency and accountability, including the balance between public and private meetings, participation of civil society briefers, and incorporation of gender perspectives in the Council’s work. Other areas that are likely to be addressed include increased engagement with the wider UN membership and other UN bodies, the relationship with the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), Council visiting missions, and the need for more effective procedures concerning sanctions regimes. The statement may also underscore the need for comprehensive reform of the Security Council and express concern over the frequent use of the veto.

The permanent members (P5) may provide their views on the proposed updated Note 507. There are some differences of view among Council members as to whether an in-depth revision should be undertaken or if this process should be limited to incorporating the new presidential notes. Regarding working methods developments, some P5 members may share their experiences as co-penholders with elected members. Although the P3 (France, the UK, and the US) are still the penholders on the majority of issues, over the last two years they have increasingly shared the pen with elected members. China, whose compromise draft text helped the IWG to adopt a presidential note on penholders last year, may reiterate its view that penholder arrangements need to be expanded beyond a small group of permanent members. Some permanent members might express concern about the politicisation of working methods, particularly in the context of the choice of civil society briefers, participation of member states under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure, and requests to convene meetings. Other areas that may be covered by P5 members are sanctions, cooperation with host governments, and Security Council reform.

The wider UN membership has a deep interest in the Security Council’s working methods and their effect on the Council’s ability to maintain international peace and security. At tomorrow’s meeting, member states are expected to provide their views on the desired content of an updated Note 507. In this context, several member states are expected to mention General Assembly resolution A/RES/76/262 (also referred to as the “veto initiative”), which calls for the General Assembly to meet within ten days whenever a veto is cast and for the Council to submit a special report on the use of the veto to the Geneal Assembly. As a result of this initiative, the General Assembly met six times in 2023 to discuss the use of the veto and once so far in 2024. Members may note the need for activities related to this initiative to be captured in the Council’s annual report to the General Assembly as well as in the updated Note 507. They may also stress that more needs to be done to prevent the use of a veto.

The war in Ukraine has given rise to a wider discussion on the obligatory abstention aspect of Article 27 (3) of the UN Charter, which may be raised by some members. (Article 27 (3) of the UN Charter stipulates that “[d]ecisions of the Security Council on all other matters shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members including the concurring votes of the permanent members; provided that, in decisions under Chapter VI, and under paragraph 3 of Article 52, a party to a dispute shall abstain from voting”.) Members may also note the need for a more analytical annual report and express their concern that only six Council presidents have so far provided assessments of their presidencies in 2023.

As in previous years, members of the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group (ACT) are expected to deliver a joint statement at the open debate. The statement is likely to focus on concrete proposals in the context of updating and implementing Note 507, including on such issues as the better use of digital tools to increase transparency of co-sponsorships of Security Council resolutions, the use of special reports to the General Assembly, rule 37 participation, and the use of the veto.

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