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Updated on 31 August 2017


Section 5:   Further documentation of procedures


Council adopts its third comprehensive note on working methods (S/2017/507)


On 30 August 2017, the Security Council adopted its third ever comprehensive Note by the President on its working methods (S/2017/507).  Comprised of 142 operative paragraphs, the new Note not only consolidates the 14 Notes and one presidential statement on Council procedures adopted from 2010 through 2016, but also contains significant new provisions.


As detailed in the book, the first such comprehensive Note was adopted in 2006, under Japan’s chairmanship of the Council’s Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions (IWG).  Japan initiated negotiation of the first comprehensive Note because from 1993 to 2006, the Council had issued over fifty statements and presidential notes on its procedures.  The books explains that “This wealth of ad hoc documentation created a lack of clarity as to which working methods were still in effect and which had been superseded.  In addition, other areas of practice remained undocumented or in need of development.”


To address this situation, Japan, as IWG Chair, led an intensive drafting exercise which culminated in the adoption of the Note by the President issued as S/2006/507.  With a total of 63 paragraphs, the Note was “intended to be a concise and user-friendly list of the recent practices and newly agreed measures, which will serve as guidance for the Council’s work”.


After the adoption of this first comprehensive Note, Slovakia and then Panama served as IWG Chairs.  Under their sequential leadership, two additional Notes on several specific procedures were adopted in 2007 and 2008 (S/2007/749 and S/2008/847). 


Japan returned to the Council in 2009, and for that and the following year, again served as Chair of the Informal Working Group.  In the interval since the adoption of the 2006 comprehensive Note, some of the working methods it contained had been superseded, and it became apparent that others needed to be improved.  The IWG decided that the best approach would be to issue a revised and expanded comprehensive Note by the President.  After extensive deliberations, the Council adopted a new Note (S/2010/507), comprised of 78 paragraphs.


In the following years, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Portugal, Argentina, and Angola served successively as IWG Chairs, during which time, as an outcome of the Informal Working Group’s deliberations, 11 additional Notes were issued on a number of different working methods.  In addition, following an open debate conducted by Spain during its Council Presidency of October 2015, a presidential statement was adopted on the Council’s procedures (S/PRST/2015/19).  Thereafter, during its Presidency of February 2016, Venezuela initiated negotiations on a set of issues related to the Council’s subsidiary organs, which led to issuance of another presidential note (S/2016/170).


When Japan was again elected to chair the IWG in 2016, it first tackled the issue of improving transitional arrangements for newly elected Council members, resulting in the adoption of presidential note S/2016/619, which also set out a more defined and inclusive process for selecting chairs of subsidiary bodies.


Taken together, the 14 presidential notes described above and the 2015 presidential statement contained 173 paragraphs, some of which superseded guidelines in earlier notes, leading to duplication and uncertainty.  Thus in 2016, Japan, as IWG Chair, opened a discussion in the Informal Working Group on the way forward.  This was in keeping with the request contained in the 2015 presidential statement that the IWG should “continue reviewing and updating relevant notes by the President of the Security Council”.  As a first step, during its Council Presidency of July 2016, Japan convened an open debate on working methods with a view to identifying, after hearing from both Council and non-Council Member States, those procedures which would benefit from adjustments. 


In a series of subsequent meetings over a number of months, the IWG first discussed several problem areas in the Council’s existing working methods.  Thereafter, in May 2017, the Chair presented its draft for an updated comprehensive Note.  In the spirit of outreach, that same month the IWG Chair briefed non-Council Member States on the work being undertaken by the Informal Working Group.  Negotiations among IWG members continued on the draft Note, which underwent a number of amendments, until consensus was finally reached on 30 August 2017.


Following past practice, the Council President for the month of August 2017 (Egypt) issued a statement to the press following the adoption of S/2017/507.  In his statement (SC/12975), the President indicated that the new Note built on “previous Council efforts to document its working methods, enhance its efficiency and transparency as well as interaction and dialogue with non-Council members and bodies”, and had also been restructured for user-friendliness.  In particular, he singled out the following new measures:


  • On the monthly programme of work, incoming presidencies are encouraged to discuss it with other Council members well in advance;
  • On informal consultations of the whole, the Note sets out additional measures, such as encouraging briefers to be succinct, making more effective use of “Other matters” to raise issues of concern, and encouraging elements to the press at the end of consultations;   
  • On drafting outcome documents, the Note refers to co-penholders, and also encourages at least one round of discussion with all Council members; sufficient time for consideration under silence procedures; and making outcomes focused, succinct and action-oriented;*
  • On dialogue with non-Council members and bodies, the Note refers for the first time to the importance of annual joint consultative meetings and informal dialogues with the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC), as well as consideration of joint missions of the Security Council and the AUPSC to conflict situations in Africa; and
  • On Security Council missions to the field, the Note introduces additional elements for enhancing their value, as well as aspects related to their preparation, itinerary, and follow-up.


Following on from the President’s press statement, some specific provisions in S/2017/507 are worth highlighting:


  • Paragraph 1 of the new Note for the first time makes reference to Rules 1, 2 and 3 of the Council’s Provisional Rules of Procedure, thus underscoring that any guidelines in the Note regarding the convening of Council meetings are to be understood within the context of those rules.  This meets a longstanding concern of some Council members that guidelines on convening meetings should not be seen as overriding any of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.


  • The Note carries over from a previous Note (S/2012/922) the guideline that each Council President is encouraged, as appropriate, to hold an end-of-presidency informal briefing session with the wider UN membership. To this, paragraph 7 adds that formal wrap-up meetings “may also continue to be organized” by the President “when appropriate and with the consent” of all Council members.  While this paragraph thus appears to state a preference for informal wrap-up meetings, which have been gaining in frequency over recent years (see related article on this website), it is relevant that the Note still supports the holding of formal wrap-ups when consensus exists to do so.


  • As highlighted in the President’s press statement, the Note adds a number of guidelines for increasing the interactivity of closed consultations.  As described in the book (page 67), “Council members have themselves on occasion complained that the discussions in consultations of the whole can sometimes be stilted and formulaic, with ambassadors reading from prepared statements rather than speaking spontaneously and interactively.  In such instances, some Council members have wondered aloud whether the discussion could simply have been held as a public meeting.”  S/2017/507 builds on measures set out in previous Notes intended to enhance interactivity, and in particular, expands on previous guidelines relating to the use of the agenda item “Other matters”.  The Note states that Council members are encouraged “to signal intention to raise an issue under ‘Other matters’, along with the intended aim,” to the President and all Council members “at least one day before the consultations, whenever possible”.
  • Also with a view to rendering consultations more result-oriented, S/2017/507 encourages the President "to suggest at the end of consultations, general lines or elements to be used when providing briefings to the press".  


  • The Note sets out a guideline to the effect that the President or his/her designate should provide substantive, detailed briefings to non-Council Member States shortly after the end of consultations.  While this guideline dates back to earlier Notes, its inclusion in S/2017/507 is significant because the practice had fallen into abeyance.


  • For a number of years, there has been a disconnect between the Council and some briefers as to the appropriate length of briefings, especially those given in conjunction with reports of the Secretary-General.  Although prior notes set out a maximum of 15 minutes for a briefer’s initial remarks, some briefers have spoken for a half-hour or more, leading to consternation on the part of Council members impatient to move on to the stage of interactive discussion.  S/2017/507 seeks to remedy this situation not only by re-emphasizing the 15-minute limit for briefings given in public meetings, but also by adding a new limit of 10 minutes for briefings given in closed consultations, as well as a limit of 5 minutes in consultations if an open briefing has been given beforehand.


  • Another issue that has long been of concern to Council members is their desire to receive from the Secretariat briefing texts, fact sheets, and other reference materials which, especially in complex factual situations, would enhance their ability to respond with greater knowledgeability to information presented by briefers.  The Secretariat is again invited by S/2017/507 to provide such supplemental materials, with on-screen visual aids now also specifically mentioned.  It should be noted, however, that occasional reticence by the Secretariat may stem in part from a wish to minimize leaks of confidential information placed before the Council by a briefer during closed consultations.  Accordingly, in implementing these guidelines, balance will have to be found between these two sets of concerns.


  • Among the various mechanisms available for Council members to convey policy guidance to the Secretary-General, the new Note repeats earlier support for holding monthly luncheons with him or her.  The paragraph then adds a new element when it describes the luncheons as allowing “action-oriented exchanges”.  This is endorsing a practice, described on page 95 of the book, which has developed in recent years when occasionally these luncheons have moved beyond mere discussion to the taking of decisions.


  • As noted in the President’s press statement, S/2017/507 seeks to bring better order, and consensus-building, to the process of drafting and negotiating the Council’s outcome documents.  In S/2014/268, the Council first broached the issue of “penholding” – described in that Note as the informal arrangement by which one or more Council members initiates and chairs the informal drafting process – and affirmed that “Any member of the Security Council may be a penholder.”  In actual fact, as described in a related article on this website, the large majority of the Council’s resolutions, presidential statements and press statements are drafted by France, the United Kingdom or the United States.  However, partly inspired by the successful more recent practice of “co-lead” arrangements for the Council’s missions to the field, interest has been growing on the Council for “co-penholding”.  This practice is endorsed for the first time in S/2017/507, which states that “More than one Council member may act as co-penholders, where it is deemed to add value, taking into account as appropriate the expertise and/or contributions of Council members on the subjects.” 


  • S/2017/507 also elaborates more specific guidelines for the full participation of all Council members in drafting processes.  One new provision encourages penholders, in the case of any draft resolution that which is not a technical rollover, or any presidential statement, “to present and discuss the draft with all members of the Security Council in at least one round of informal consultations or informal-informals”.  This guideline is intended to mitigate the tendency of penholders, in certain situations, to present a draft outcome document to other Council members without providing them any real opportunity to suggest inputs (criticism of this practice can be found in reports S/2017/468 and S/2016/506 of recent Finnish Workshops).  The new Note urges that “a reasonably sufficient time” be given for the consideration by all Council members of drafts placed under a silence procedure.  It also recognizes that any member “may request extension of and/or break silence if further consideration is required”. 


  • S/2017/507 reprises an earlier paragraph from S/2010/507 whereby Council members agree to consider (our emphasis) making draft outcome documents “available as appropriate to non-members of the Council as soon as such documents are introduced within informal consultations of the whole, or earlier, if so authorized by the authors of the draft document.”  Confusion has existed for some time as to the stage at which non-members of the Council may have access to draft outcome documents.  A 1994 Note by the President (S/1994/230) was more specific on this point, stating that “Effective 1 March 1994, draft resolutions in blue, that is, in provisional form, will be made available for collection by non-members of the Council at the time of consultations of the whole of the Council.  Draft resolutions published in blue late at night will be made available for collection by non-members of the Council the following day.”  However, this 1994 guideline was not carried forward into the newer comprehensive Notes on working methods, lending support to the view that in their current practice, as reflected in S/2017/507, Council members prefer to decide on advance circulation of drafts to non-members on a case-by-case basis.


  • S/2017/507 addresses the issue of enhanced cooperation with troop- and police-contributing countries (TCCs/PCCs) in new detail.  Among its innovations are an expansion of the circumstances in which consultation is particularly advised to include “cases of operational challenges or developments requiring mandate adjustments”.  The new Note also places greater emphasis on the holding of more focused informal meetings between Council members, TCCs/PCCs, and the Secretariat, a practice promoted in particular by New Zealand during its 2014-15 term on the Council.


  • One practice which had been in abeyance – the regular holding of meetings of the Council President with the President of ECOSOC – has been reaffirmed in S/2017/507, which also expresses support for holding regular meetings with the General Assembly President.


  • The new Note elaborates on the relationship of the Council with the Peacebuilding Commission “as an intergovernmental advisory body”, and expresses the Council members’ “intention to regularly request, deliberate and draw upon its specific, strategic and targeted advice”, in accordance with two Security Council resolutions, 1645 (2005) and 2282 (2016).  This is the first mention in a presidential note of the PBC having an “advisory” capacity. The paragraph stops short of including specific language, favoured by some Council members, on the need to reflect a longer-term perspective on sustaining peace in Council decisions relating to peacekeeping and special political mandates.  However, in citing resolution 2282 (2016), the new 507 esentially draws in language to that effect contained in paragraph 8 of the resolution.


  • Adding to its former guidelines for missions to the field, S/2017/507 notes that such missions serve not only the purposes of understanding and assessing particular situations, but also may have a preventative role.  The new Note also sets out the agreement of Council members “to consider joint missions” with the AU Peace and Security Council to conflict situations in Africa, as agreed by the two Councils on a case-by-case basis.  The AUPSC has long advocated such joint missions, and while they were mentioned in the 2015 Joint communiqué of the consultative meeting between members of the AUPSC and the UN Security Council (S/2015/212), this is their first endorsement in a Security Council outcome document.


Overall, S/2017/507 represents a serious effort on the part of the Security Council both to consolidate earlier documentation on its working methods, and to break new ground in politically sensitive areas.  Actual implementation of the guidelines will be facilitated by the Note’s introduction of more concrete measures than in the past.  These concrete measures will also serve as more defined benchmarks by which the Council’s improvement of its practices can be measured.  Previously, it was difficult to answer criticism that the Council had not sufficiently implemented its presidential notes on working methods because many of the guidelines were written as general exhortations, lacking in specific steps to be taken. 


Some impetus for the new Note undoubtedly stems from pressure for improved Security Council working methods on the part of the broader UN membership, including those Member States organized as the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group (ACT).  At the same time, S/2017/507 importantly responds to the frustrations of Council members themselves with certain working method situations which have hindered the Council’s effective functioning, such as non-interactive consultations of the whole.  In addition, several of the new Note’s provisions stem from the wish of a number of Council members for working methods which will enhance the Council’s capacity to engage more actively in prevention.


The new Note also addresses elected members’ concern over practices which many of them feel have limited their ability to contribute fully to the Council’s work.  New provisions in S/2017/507 – including those relating to co-penholding and broader consultation on draft outcomes – are a step towards addressing that concern.  So, too, are the provisions in the new Note carried forward from S/2016/619 relating the selection of Chairs of the Council’s subsidiary bodies.  Taken in its totality, the new Note embodies several steps, however measured, towards greater power-sharing among Council members, and are evidence of some significant concessions by certain members.


At the formal wrap-up meeting convened by Egypt at the close of its August 2017 presidency (S/PV. 8038), the representative of Japan affirmed his view that S/2017/507 “represents a comprehensive and balanced text, which can serve as a useful ‘handbook’ on the agreed measures or best practices on working methods of the Council.”  He noted, however, that while “codification of best practices is a useful exercise”, it is not an end in itself.  In his view, what was most important was “the implementation and actual practice of the Council.”  In this connection, he stated his hope “that this revised note will be utilized as an important basis for continuing to make further improvements in the working methods through the daily work of the Council.”


(This update supplements pages 13-15, 67, and 481-487 of the book.)


*  For a discussion of overly long and complex outcome documents, see related article on this website.



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