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Posted on 9 June 2019

Why was Rule 43 deleted from the Council’s Provisional Rules of Procedure?


Although the procedural rules of the Security Council are numbered from 1 to 61, in fact there are only 60 of them.[1]  That is because Rule 43 carries the notation “deleted”.


At the outset, the Security Council had only two “working languages” – English and French.  That meant that any statement given during a formal Council meeting had to be delivered in one of those two languages and it would be interpreted into the other.  For example, at the Council’s very first meeting, held on 17 January 1946, the representatives of Egypt, France and Poland spoke in French, while those of Australia, Brazil, China,[2] Mexico, the Netherlands, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States used English.


Later during that first year, it was decided that the Security Council would add Chinese, Russian and Spanish as official languages, but not as working languages (see S/96).  This meant that in addition to English or French, statements could thereafter be made in the three new official languages.  However, statements made in any of the Council’s now five languages would be interpreted solely into French and English, which remained the only two working languages.  This distinction between official and working languages was set out in what were originally Rules 38-40, later renumbered to become Rules 41-43:


Rule 41:  Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish shall be the official languages of the Security Council, and English and French the working languages.


Rule 42:  Speeches made in either of the working languages shall be interpreted into the other working language.


Rule 43:  Speeches made in any of the three other official languages shall be interpreted into both working languages.”


As the Cold War progressed, Russian and Spanish came into more common use among Council members, and also among non-Council Member States invited to participate in official meetings.  It will be recalled that besides the Soviet Union, a number of Eastern European countries made their statements in Russian.  Spanish was also often used by more than one country in addressing the Council, especially after the Latin American and Caribbean region was allocated two seats when the Council expanded from eleven to fifteen members in 1966. 


Given this wider use of Russian and Spanish, in 1969, the Council adopted resolution 263 (1969) whereby Russian and Spanish were also designated working languages.  As a result, interpretation was thereafter made into the now four working languages – English, French, Russian and Spanish.  Chinese, however, remained limited to being an official language because it was used by only one Member State.  Thus after Rules 41-43 were appropriately amended, the distinction set out in Rule 43 that interpretation was to be made only into the working languages continued in effect, but after 1969 excluded only interpretation into Chinese.


This changed in 1974, when the Security Council decided by its resolution 345 (1974) that Chinese would also become a working language.  This step was largely in response to the People’s Republic of China having assumed the UN membership of China in 1971.  The adoption of the resolution meant that a statement in any of the Council’s five languages would be interpreted into the other four.  This effectively eliminated any difference between an official and a working language, and therefore Rule 43 was no longer necessary.  Consequently, resolution 345 (1974) provided for its deletion.


When the Council made its earliest changes to the Provisional Rules of Procedure, it renumbered them.  But by 1974, frequently-used rules such as Rule 32, setting out the voting order for draft resolutions, or Rule 37, providing for non-Council Member States to participate in Council meetings, were widely known by their numbers.  For that reason, rather than renumbering the rules to account for the elimination of Rule 43, resolution 345 (1974) set out in an Annex that this was to be indicated in the Provisional Rules of Procedure by the word “[deleted]”. 


When Arabic was added in 1982,[3] from the outset it was characterized as both an official and a working language, which meant that Rule 43 continued not to be needed.  No further explicit amendments have been made to the Provisional Rules of Procedure since that year, and so their present version remains S/96/Rev. 7.


A related article on this website discusses why the Council’s rules have remained “provisional”.  If the Council eventually brings them up-to-date, this will probably lead to the deletion of certain rules which have fallen in abeyance, such as those relating to former practices for approving verbatim records[4] or the frequency for convening “periodic meetings”.[5]  In that event, given today’s even greater familiarity with the Security Council’s rules by their numbers, it is certain that the Council will follow the practice of 1974 and not renumber the rules but rather, as appropriate, make additional notations of “[deleted]”. 


(This update supplements pages 9-12 of the book.)


[1] The Provisional Rules of Procedure also contain one Appendix.

[2] At that time, the Republic of China.

[3] Resolution 528 (1982).

[4] Rules 50 and 53.

[5] Rule 4.



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