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Updated on 12 September 2019


Section 4:   Provisional Rules of Procedure


Which of the Council’s Rules of Procedure have been implicitly modified or suspended?


As mentioned in a related article on this website, over the years a number of minor Rules of Procedure have fallen into disuse or been informally modified in their application by the Security Council.  This being the case, it would not be possible today merely to strike the word “Provisional” from the face of the Rules.  Rather, they would first need to be studied to determine which are still valid and which are not. 


Accordingly, this article describes some rules which have been implicitly modified or suspended over time.


Although the Charter states that the United Nations shall place no restriction on the eligibility of men and women to participate in its work “in any capacity and under conditions of equality” (Article 8), the Council’s Provisional Rules of Procedure – like most UN documents of their era – were drafted using only the pronouns “he” and “his”.  In actuality, it was not until 1972 that a Security Council member was represented by a woman.  (The country was Guinea and the ambassador was the highly regarded Jeanne Martin Cissé.)  By today’s standards, it is understood that the Council’s Rules 1, 13, 14, 20, 21, 22, 30 and 44, as well as the Appendix, include the feminine gender.[1]


Rule 4 states that “Periodic meetings of the Security Council called for in Article 28(2) of the Charter shall be held twice a year, at such times as the Security Council may decide.”  Article 28(2) provides,


“The Security Council shall hold periodic meetings at which each of its members may, if it so desires, be represented by a member of the government or by some other specially designated representative.” 


In the history of the Council, only one periodic meeting, officially denominated as such, has been held.  It took place on 21 October 1970 as part of the 25th anniversary celebration of the UN.[2]  In effect, such “periodic meetings” have been replaced by occasional ministerial- or summit-level meetings.  Thus it can be interpreted that by practice the Council members either have implicitly suspended the provision in Rule 4 for convening “periodic meetings twice a year” or that such periodic meetings in essence do take place, but under a different name and without reference to Article 28(2). 


The second paragraph of Rule 7 provides that


“Only items which have been brought to the attention of the representatives on the Security Council in accordance with rule 6, items covered by rule 10, or matters which the Security Council had previously decided to defer, may be included in the provisional agenda.”


Rule 6 refers to “communications from States, organs of the United Nations, or the Secretary-General”.  Rule 10 refers to agenda items for which consideration has not been completed at a prior meeting.  By today’s practice, the agenda drawn up for each formal Council meeting is not limited to these categories.  Rather, the large majority of items taken up are the result of informal agreement among Council members, as reflected in their calendar of work adopted at the start of each presidency and as modified, also by informal agreement, during the course of the month.  Therefore, Rule 7 can be considered to have been, by practice, implicitly modified.

Rule 8 provides that the Secretary-General shall circulate each provisional agenda to Council members “at least three days before the meeting, but in urgent circumstances it may be communicated simultaneously with the notice of the meeting.”  Advance notice of three days or more was a reasonable requirement when modern electronic communication was lacking.  Today, the usual practice is to circulate the provisional agenda the day before.  This could be considered an implicit suspension of Rule 8, although the last clause does suggest some flexibility.  Moreover, the common practice of presidencies to circulate a concept note several days in advance of thematic meetings gives lengthier prior notice in such cases of the provisional agenda.


Rule 10 provides that


“Any item of the agenda of a meeting of the Security Council, consideration of which has not been completed at that meeting, shall, unless the Security Council otherwise decides, automatically be included in the agenda of the next meeting.” 


The Council unevenly followed this rule during its first two decades.  Then, with an increase in the number of items which had not been completely dispensed with but were not under active consideration, Council members came to feel that no practical purpose was served by having an agenda include items which they did not intend to take up at that meeting.  The practice thus shifted to entering only one specific item on the agenda for each meeting.  However, since Rule 10 provides for the inclusion of incomplete items in a subsequent agenda “unless the Security Council otherwise decides”, it is possible to consider that each time the Council adopts the agenda for a meeting which does not include other previous items, it has “otherwise decided” within the terms of Rule 10.  Alternatively, it can be considered that Rule 10 has been implicitly suspended.


Rule 12 provides that the provisional agenda for each periodic meeting shall be circulated to Council members at least 21 days beforehand.  As noted under Rule 4 above, the Council has held no periodic meeting, denominated as such, since 1970. The circulation of the provisional agenda for ministerial- or summit-level meetings usually has been carried out in the same timeframe as for other formal Council meetings.  Moreover, the common practice of presidencies to circulate a concept note several days in advance of such higher-level meetings in effect gives prior informal circulation to the provisional agenda.


Rule 15 provides that the Secretary-General shall examine the credentials of Security Council representatives and then submit a report to the Council for its approval.  In today’s practice, the Secretary-General normally publishes his report without prior consultation with Council members.  However, this rule still allows for there to be an approval process in the case of any credentials which prove controversial.


Rule 26 provides that the Secretary-General shall prepare documents required by the Council and, “except in urgent circumstances, distribute them at least forty-eight hours in advance of the meeting at which they are to be considered.”  By today’s practice, this deadline is no longer commonly imposed.


The first clause of Rule 36 provides that the President shall rule on the order in which two or more amendments to a draft resolution are to be voted upon, ordinarily beginning with “the amendment furthest removed in substance from the original proposal and then on the amendment next furthest removed until all amendments have been put to the vote”.  However, this is followed by a qualifying clause stating that “when an amendment adds to or deletes from the text” of a draft, “that amendment shall be voted on first.”[3]  It has proved hard to conceive of any amendment which does not either add to, or delete from, a text, and so this second clause, in practice, has commonly not been taken into account by Presidents in their rulings.


Rule 49 provides that verbatim records shall be made available to Council members and any non-Council Member States participants “not later than 10 a.m. of the first working day following the meeting.”  Given repeated cuts to the UN language services budgets, this is no longer a workable timeframe, and members have tacitly accepted a later circulation of verbatim records.


Rule 50 gives a two-day window for States having participated in a meeting to bring proposed corrections to the verbatim record to the Secretary-General’s attention.  In practice, the Council no longer imposes a deadline for such corrections.  Furthermore, a presidential note adopted in 1993 decided that verbatim records would no longer undergo a review process but would instead be “issued in final form only”.[4]


The second clause of Rule 51 sets a 10-day period for corrections to the verbatim records of private meetings.  In present practice, no deadline is imposed.


While Rule 52 remains valid in terms of the procedure to be followed in the event a Council President decides that proposed corrections to a verbatim record require the approval of Council members, in present practice, participants wishing to submit corrections usually contact the UN Secretariat’s Verbatim Reporting Service directly and with no deadline applying. 


Similarly to Rule 50, although Rule 53 remains, as is, in the Rules of Procedure, in effect it was amended by a presidential note adopted in 1993 which decided that verbatim records would no longer go through a review process but would instead be “issued in final form only”.[4]


Rules 59 and 60 relate to the process by which the Security Council acts upon applications for UN membership and set out timeframes, respectively, for the report to the Council by its Committee on the Admission of New Members and for the Council’s subsequent recommendation to the General Assembly.  These original timeframes were thought necessary when the Assembly tended to hold only a regular fall session.  Now that the Assembly meets more often throughout the year, the timeframes have implicitly been suspended, as appropriate.


Attached is a copy of the full set of the Provisional Rules of Procedure with these implicit modifications or suspensions indicated. 

(This update supplements pages 9-12, 296 and 671 of the book.)                       


[1] In 2019, two Council members, Poland and the United States, are represented by female permanent representatives.

[2] S/PV.1555.

[3] The General Assembly’s rule on the order of voting on amendments begins similarly to the Security Council’s, but has nothing like its second clause.

[4] S/26389.



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