Updated on 9 November 2015
Chapter 1: THE CONSTITUTIONAL FRAMEWORK
Section 5: Further documentation of procedures
Adoption of a presidential statement on the Council’s working methods
On 30 October 2015, ten days after the Security Council held an open debate on its working methods, the Council adopted a seven-paragraph Statement by the President (PRST) on this subject (S/PRST/2015/19).
In the PRST, the Security Council welcomed “the continued participation by the wider membership in the open debate held on 20 October 2015 under the agenda item ‘Implementation of the note by the President of the Security Council (S/2010/507)’.” In this connection, the Council expressed “its intent to continue to hold an annual open debate on its working methods”. As described in the book on page 15, the first formal Council meeting convened specifically to discuss the procedure of the Security Council took place in 1994, on the initiative of France (S/PV.3483). Thereafter, open debates on procedure and working methods have been convened in 2008 and then on an annual basis since 2010. Such open debates have become an expected event on the Council’s yearly programme of work since 2010, and have been well attended by non-Council Member States. Therefore, it was unlikely that the Council would have ceased to convene these annual open debates.
However, S/PRST/2015/19 does mark the first time that the Council has put its commitment to hold an annual open debate on its working methods in writing. In making this commitment to a yearly open debate on working methods, the new presidential statement goes beyond an earlier Note by the President, S/2013/515, in which the members of the Council had merely stated their commitment to “continuing to provide opportunities to hear the views of the broader membership on the working methods of the Council, including in any open debate on the implementation of the note by the President of 26 July 2010 (S/2010/507)”.
The commitment expressed by the Council in S/PRST/2015/19 “to continue to keep its working methods under consideration in its regular work, with a view to ensuring their effective and consistent implementation” (emphasis added) also marks an advance, albeit a small one, over a similar commitment made by the Council previously. In its Note S/2015/515, the Council had affirmed its commitment to “continuing to keep the Council’s working methods under consideration with a view to ensuring their effective and consistent implementation”, without mentioning the Council’s “regular work”. Thus the new 2015 presidential statement makes clear that the Council members now consider that the implementation and improvement of the Council’s working methods are the responsibility of the Council itself, and not merely of its Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions.
The Council has previously expressed its intention to make more effective use of the format of public meetings in conducting its regular work. It did so in a general way in the Note by the President S/2015/515, and the Council set out specific measures to this end in its Notes by the President S/2010/507 and S/2012/922. A new element agreed to in S/PRST/2015/19 for enhancing the effectiveness of public meetings is the Council’s welcoming of “joint statements by both Security Council members and other Member States” as one step towards improving “the focus and interactivity” of the Council’s open debates.
In the new 2015 presidential statement, the Council “underscores the importance of increased coordination, cooperation and interaction among the principal organs of the United Nations, in particular the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council and the Secretariat, as well as with other relevant bodies including the Peacebuilding Commission, and regional organisations, including the African Union” (emphasis added). In invoking “coordination, cooperation and interaction” with the General Assembly and ECOSOC, the new 2015 presidential statement builds on earlier presidential notes which emphasized the importance of communication between the Security Council and the other principal organs. For example, S/2010/507 stated that the members of the Council “intend to continue to maintain regular communication with the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council for better coordination among the principal organs of the United Nations.” In this context, S/2010/507 also encouraged the Council President “to continue holding meetings with the Presidents of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council on a regular basis.”
The emphasis in the new 2015 presidential statement on “increased coordination, cooperation and interaction” with the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) appears intended to foster a more substantive relationship between the Security Council and the PBC. Earlier Notes by the President were limited to encouraging enhanced communication between the two bodies. For example, in the 2010 presidential note S/2010/507, the Council members stated their intention “to maintain regular communication with the Peacebuilding Commission.” Presidential note S/2013/515 similarly stated that the Council members remained “committed to maintaining regular communication with the Peacebuilding Commission.” However, the new 2015 presidential statement is silent as to the PBC country configurations, whereas both the 2010 and the 2013 presidential notes state that the Council will, as appropriate, invite the chairs of the country configurations to participate in formal Council meetings and, again as appropriate, for exchanges of views in an informal dialogue.
In another new element, the 2015 presidential statement “reaffirms that the relationship between the principal organs of the United Nations is mutually reinforcing and complementary, in accordance with and with full respect for their respective functions, authority, powers and competencies as enshrined in the Charter.” This clause is partly in response to ongoing criticism by many members of the General Assembly, and by some members of the Security Council itself, that the Council has been encroaching on the mandates of other principal organs of the UN system. As detailed on page 582 of the book,
“The Council has been criticized for having a tendency to broaden, arbitrarily, the definition
of what constitutes a threat to international peace and security, particularly with respect to
thematic debates touching on social, humanitarian, or economic and development issues. . . .
The Council has also been criticized for its increasing involvement in norm-setting and
establishing definitions, which, some Member States have contended, under the Charter
fall within the purview of the General Assembly.”
There was some anticipation that the new 2015 presidential statement might concretely address at least some of the thirteen paragraphs on the appointment process for the next UN Secretary-General contained in General Assembly resolution 69/321 (see related article on this website). However, S/PRST/2015/19 merely “takes note” of the adoption of that resolution, “and the continued cooperation between the President of the Security Council and the President of the General Assembly.” This suggests that the Council members had not reached unanimity on a more specific response to the provisions of Assembly resolution 69/321 by the time of the adoption of S/PRST/2015/19.
The “importance of increased coordination, cooperation and interaction” with “regional organisations, including the African Union” expressed in the new 2015 presidential statement echoes a number of decisions adopted by the Council concerning regional organizations generally, and others specific to the African Union, such as resolution 2033 (2012), presidential statements S/PRST/2010/1 and S/PRST/2013/12, and presidential note S/2013/515. This clause also echoes presidential note S/2015/507, which states that the Council members “agree to continue to expand consultation and cooperation with regional and subregional organizations, including by inviting relevant organizations to participate in the Council’s public and private meetings, when appropriate.” Another presidential note, S/2014/268, specifically expresses the intention of the Council to “informally consult” with, among others, regional organizations, “when drafting, inter alia, resolutions, presidential statements and press statements, as appropriate.”
The new 2015 presidential statement concludes with three paragraphs on the role of the Council’s subsidiary bodies in improving the Council’s working methods. In one paragraph, the Council requests its Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions (IWG) “to continue reviewing and updating relevant Notes by the President of the Security Council, in particular Note S/2010/507 of 26 July 2010, including with a focus on implementation.” The new 2015 presidential statement also takes note of the efforts of the IWG “to enhance the transparency of its activities, including by the Chair providing regular briefings to interested Member States, in consultation with its members, and encourages the Working Group to make further progress in this regard.”
And lastly, the new presidential statement expressed appreciation for “the efforts on working methods undertaken by its other subsidiary bodies aimed at enhancing the effectiveness and transparency of their activities, and encourages them, as appropriate, to make further progress.” In an earlier presidential note, S/2013/515, the Council expressed a commitment
“(d) To encouraging the subsidiary bodies to enhance the transparency of their activities,
including by providing non-members of the Council with substantive interactive briefings,
as agreed by their members, recognizing that doing so can add value to the work of those
“(e) To encouraging the subsidiary bodies to consider any other opportunities for non-Council members to provide input to their work”.
Thus the new 2015 presidential statement registers advances in some areas regarding the Security Council’s working methods, while in other respects it restates earlier commitments made by the Council. However, probably the most important contribution of S/PRST/2015/19 is that by adopting a decision on working methods at the level of a presidential statement, the Security Council has underscored its intention to take more direct responsibility for implementing previously agreed decisions on its working methods, and for developing improved practices. This point was suggested by the Council President (Spain) at the adoption meeting, when he stated, “I think it is a good sign that we are able to adopt texts that bind us in future to continue to work with greater efficiency and dedication” (S/PV.7547).