Updated on 13 July 2020

Chapter 1:   THE CONSTITUTIONAL FRAMEWORK

Section 5:   Further documentation of procedures

 

German presidency sets out guidelines on modalities for in-person Council meetings in July (with floor plan)

 

On 1 July 2020, the permanent representative of Germany, in his capacity as Security Council President for that month, addressed a letter to all members of the Council confirming the Council’s intention

 

“to undertake a gradual and phased shift towards in-person meetings of the Council at Headquarters while continuing to ensure the safety of the delegations and of United Nations personnel by taking all necessary health precautions.”

 

While highlighting “recent positive developments regarding the containment of the COVID-19 outbreak in New York City”, the letter acknowledged that UN Headquarters itself remained at “phase zero”, with limitations on the presence of UN staff until 31 July.  It recalled, nonetheless, that it had been possible to hold in the building elections for the General Assembly President and members of ECOSOC and the Security Council on 17 and 18 June.  And the letter definitively underscored “that the decision on convening in-person meetings of the Council on the premises of United Nations Headquarters lies with the Security Council.”

 

The letter then sets out “Modalities of in-person meetings of the Security Council for July 2020”.  These modalities “will be assessed continuously and might be reviewed, adjusted or discontinued, subject to agreement among all members.” 

 

The process for convening in-person meetings will be initiated by receipt of a request from any Council member, after which the presidency “will consult with members in order to achieve a consensual decision.”

 

What is noteworthy is that in order to achieve appropriate social distancing, the guidelines provide for these in-person meetings to be held in the ECOSOC Chamber.  It should be noted that there is no requirement – either in the Charter or Provisional Rules of Procedure – that Security Council meetings be held only in the Security Council Chamber.  And in fact, the troop-contributing country meetings convened pursuant to resolution 1353 (2001) – which are official meetings – are frequently held in the ECOSOC Chamber so that TCCs may have equal access to microphones.  Moreover, Article 28(3) of the Charter permits the Council to hold official meetings away from UN Headquarters entirely.  

 

As will be seen in the floor plan attached below (which is part of the President’s letter), careful planning has been undertaken to provide for social distancing in the ECOSOC Chamber. A limit of 97 Council members and Secretariat support staff has been established, and the following additional guidelines will apply:

 

  • All Council members will have assigned seats;

  • Access to the room will be limited to two persons per Council delegation (the “1 plus 1” formula) as well as approximately 38 UN and Security Council Secretariat staff;

  • Security officers will register each participant who enters the Chamber for contact-tracing purposes;

  • No-touch entry and exit will be in effect;

  • Entry will be only through the door adjacent to the Delegates Lounge, and exiting will be through the door facing the Trusteeship Chamber;

  • Doors will be open 30 minutes prior to each meeting and delegates are asked to be in the room at least 10 minutes in advance;

  • Within the room, participants are to circulate clockwise only and to respect the required physical distance of two meters (six feet);

  • All persons in the room are required to wear face masks; 

  • No documents will be distributed in the room;

  • There will be no observers present, but rather the meetings can be followed via live webcast; and

  • The Provisional Rules of Procedure will apply.[1] 

 

By publishing the meeting numbers 8746 through 8749, the UN Journal of 13 July 2020 confirmed that the first four meetings to be held in the ECOSOC Chamber pursuant to these new guidelines – all of which will be convened on 14 July – will be official meetings.  These will be the first official meetings since the 8745th meeting held on 12 March, four months previously.

 

The fact that the meetings on 14 July are official means that full verbatim records are expected to be issued thereafter pursuant to Rules 49, 50 and 52-54,[2].  Under the interim COVID-19 working methods, confirmed in document  S/2020/372, for the Council's Open VTCs, in lieu of verbatim records, the Council President is to circulate

 

"a compilation document within 48 hours of the end of the meeting containing the interventions of the briefers and those of the members and non-members of the Council participating in the video teleconference meeting who ask for the inclusion of their statement in the document". 

 

However, verbatim records are more useful because they offer a more complete record, including impromptu exchanges.  

Interpretation is another normal requirement for official meetings.  Rule 42 provides that statements made at official Council meetings “shall be interpreted into the other five languages”.  Interpretation was provided at the four official meetings on 14 July.  A single interpreter worked from each of the booths in the ECOSOC Chamber, as shown on the floor plan attached to the President’s letter (see PDF file below), while others worked remotely from booths in nearby Chambers.

 

The Security Council’s interim COVID-19 working methods have allowed the Council to carry out its normal workload, both holding public and private discussions via VTCs, and adopting decisions through a system of letters (see links below for three related articles on the working methods agreed earlier).  However, Council members concur that the full conduct of diplomacy has been hampered by the lack of the more informal opportunities to discuss issues which naturally occur when members are present together in the UN building.  Moreover, the voting procedure in the Chamber is far more immediate and straightforward than the elaborate and time-consuming procedure otherwise used by the Council during the pandemic.

 

Nonetheless,, according to the present programme of work for July, after the four official meetings on 14 July, the Council will return to the format of Open and Closed VTCs for the duration of the month.

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[1] Other guidelines in the letter elaborate on general conduct within the larger common areas of Headquarters. 

[2] As modified by presidential statement S/26389 whereby in 1993, the Council members decided that verbatim records would no longer go through a review process, but would instead be “issued in final form only”.

Related articles on this website:

- Security Council agrees on interim measures for voting and meeting during COVID-19

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

- Council members reach agreement to livestream their Open VTCs during COVID-19