Updated on 2 April 2020

Chapter 1:   THE CONSTITUTIONAL FRAMEWORK

Section 5:   Further documentation of procedures

 

Under Dominican Republic’s April presidency, Council expands its interim measures

 

After COVID-19 limited access to the UN Building, the Security Council members agreed, as set out in a letter from the Council President (China) dated 27 March, on “temporary, extraordinary and provisional measures” for carrying out their work during the pandemic.  During the last days of March, these interim measures were put into effect to hold several closed video conferences (VTCs) and to adopt four resolutions.[1]

 

While these measures enabled the Council to conduct essential discussions and adopt necessary resolutions in March, they were widely seen as insufficient for dealing more completely with the Council’s expected workload the following months, for as long as COVID-19 restrictions continue.  With this in mind, the delegation of the Dominican Republic, as it prepared for its Council presidency in April, made further working method proposals.

 

In his virtual press conference on the first day of his country’s April presidency, the representative of the Dominican Republic announced several new modalities.  He also left the door open for further developments during the month.  In this connection, he stressed that the goal of the Dominican presidency was to be as transparent and inclusive as possible. 

 

As to meeting formats, it continues to be the case that unanimity is lacking among Council members for considering virtual meetings to be “formal”.  Had agreement been reached to do so, these meetings, according to normal practice, would automatically have been indicated on a “Provisional Programme of Work” (POW) posted on the Council website; announced in the UN Journal; webcast in real time; and recorded in an official verbatim record. 

 

When this proved not possible for April, the Dominican presidency attained the agreement of the other Council members at least to bring more of their deliberations into the public sphere than had been the case in March through the following expanded interim measures:

 

  • While there will not be the customary “Provisional Programme of Work” posted on the Security Council website, the Council members did agree to post an “Informal Plan of VTC” for the month.  And, as can be seen in the attachment below, the Informal Plan for April carries the specific details that would normally appear on a POW.  This is an advance over March, when there was no agreement to show on the posted POW the VTCs which took place from 26 to 31 March, since the Council’s practice is that a regular programme of work indicates very few informal activities.

 

  • New, more defined terminology has been agreed for the VTC formats.  Whereas in March these were referred to as “closed” and “not announced as closed”, the latter will now be called “Open VTC”.  The Dominican representative explained in his presidency press conference that the “Open VTC” substitutes for the official meeting format called “Briefing” which, by practice, allows for statements by briefers, as well as by the affected State if no Council member objects.[2]

 

  • Beginning in April, a portion of every Open VTC would be webcast.  That is, in real time it has become possible to view the presentations of briefer(s), as moderated by the Council President.  But it was not until mid-April that the Council members agreed that their own statements would be webcast as well (see related article on this website).

 

  • The Council members did not reach unanimity on issuing verbatim records of Open VTCs.  However, to ensure a degree of transparency, as was the case in March, 48 hours after each Open VTC, a compilation – issued as an official document and posted on the Council website – which contains the interventions of briefers, as well as of Council members which submit their statements for inclusion.  As an expansion of this measure, non-Council Member States which participate in Open VTCs may now also request to have their statements included in the compilation.  In addition, briefers (such as SRSGs and UN department heads), whose statements will be published in the compilation, are encouraged also to publish their statements on their relevant websites in order to make the texts publicly available more rapidly.

 

  • No compilation of statements will be issued for Closed VTCs.  However, as was done in March, the presidency will facilitate the negotiation of press statements or press elements after such VTCs.  In another new measure for transparency, the Dominican representative intends to deliver any agreed press elements orally via UN webcast.

 

  • The Council will follow its normal procedure for adopting any presidential statements (PRSTs) through a silence procedure of no less than 48 hours.  For transparency, the Council President will now read out presidential statements during an Open VTC, and these will have the same status as if adopted in the Council Chamber.

 

Beyond the interim measures detailed above which are designed for greater transparency, the Dominican presidency proposed other measures to enhance the Council’s efficiency during the pandemic.  These measures include establishing the speaking order for Council members in VTCs according to the draw customarily used for formal meetings; requesting briefers to share their statements with Council members in advance; and asking briefers to limit their remarks to seven minutes. 

 

While no resolutions to extend mandates will be necessary in April, should the need arise to adopt other types of resolutions, the same procedure will be followed as in March, i.e., the sending by each Council member of a letter indicating their vote within a 48-hour deadline.[3] 

 

The new measures detailed above constitute improvements to the Council’s interim working methods during the COVID-19 pandemic, and they address a number of concerns voiced by UN Member States, both privately and publicly. 

 

Notably, in a letter dated 30 March, the representative of Switzerland wrote to the Council President and requested – on behalf of the 25 members of the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency group (ACT) – that the Council take certain steps to uphold “high standards of transparency and accountability” in response to the unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic for the Council’s day-to-day work.  Although this letter was received by the Council at a point when almost all the new measures for April had been agreed, it served to enhance the validity of those measures.  For example, the ACT letter requested that a POW or its equivalent be posted on the Council website; that statements made by briefers and Council members in VTCs be afterwards made available on the website and through other appropriate means; and that press elements be adopted after VTCs.

 

Other measures supported by some Council members, and also advocated by ACT, remain to be addressed.  As regards greater interactivity with non-Council Member States, the ACT letter requests “virtual and public information sharing and interactive sessions with Member States” upon adoption of the Council’s monthly work plan and as wrap-ups at month’s end.  While a “wrap-up” was held at the conclusion of China’s March presidency, it was not held interactively with non-Council members.  A wrap-up is scheduled for 30 April, but it remains to be seen whether technology will permit that session to be interactive with the wider UN membership.

 

The biggest critique from both Member States and journalists is that while the statements by briefers at Open VTCs will now be webcast, there are no current arrangements for webcasting the statements by Council members.  For several weeks a number of Council members have been strongly advocating that a way must be found to webcast VTCs in their entirety, and this has also been requested in the ACT letter.  Asked about this during his 1 April press conference, the Dominican representative stated that the technology to do so still needs further improvement.  He added, however, that at whatever point it became technologically feasible, he hoped the Council would expand webcast coverage to include the statements by its members.  As noted above, this was achieved later in the month of April (see related article on this website).

 

(This update supplements Chapters 2 and 7 of the book.)

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[1] See related article on this website.

[2] See the Council’s comprehensive presidential note on working methods, S/2017/507, para. 21(1)(c)(iii).  The representative also indicated that the “Closed VTC” format is the equivalent of the closed consultations held privately by the members, and accordingly affected States will not be invited to participate.

[3] See related article on this website for the details of this procedure. 

[4] See the Council’s comprehensive presidential note on working methods, S/2017/507, para. 21(1)(c)(ii).