25 August 2023
Chapter 2: PLACE AND FORMAT OF COUNCIL PROCEEDINGS
Section 2: Formal public (open) meetings
In 2023, under chairmanship of Albania, the Informal Working Group on documentation and procedure adopted a presidential note on Minutes of silence
On 28 June 2022, while speaking via VTC at a Security Council meeting on Ukraine, that country’s President Zelenskyy said,
“I would like to ask the Council – and I will be very grateful – to commemorate all the Ukrainians who have been killed in this war, all the adults, the children, the tens of thousands of people. I ask the Council to commemorate them with a minute of silence.”
The Permanent Representative of Ukraine sitting at the Security Council table immediately stood up. There was a moment’s pause before Council members themselves stood up, including the Russian representative. The minute of silence was then observed by all.
However, the following day, the Russian representative wrote a letter to the Council President (Albania) in which he stated that observing President Zelenskyy’s call for a minute of silence constituted a “breach of Security Council practices”. The Russian representative affirmed that actions of the Council such as observing silence “should be called for by the President and after consultations with the members of the Council" (S/2022/528).*
Again on 24 February 2023, this time during the Security Council presidency of Malta, the Council members were met by another unexpected request for a minute of silence. The Foreign Minister of Ukraine, present in the Chamber, stated “on this tragic day, as we mourn lives and destinies broken by Russia, I kindly ask everyone to observe a minute of silence in memory of the victims of the aggression.”
While some, but not all, Council members were rising, the Russian representative asked for the floor. He affirmed that “We are getting up on our feet to honour the memory of all the victims of what has happened in Ukraine, starting in 2014 – all of those who perished. All lives are priceless, and that is why we are standing, to honour the memory of them all.” Then everyone in the Chamber rose to observe the minute of silence (S/PV.9269).
It was in light of these instances that the Council’s Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions (IWG) took up the issue of adopting guidelines with respect to minutes of silence. This was an area of practice that merited Council members’ attention, because while the Russian letter stated that observations of silence “should be called for by the President and after consultations with the members of the Council”, in fact the Council’s past practice had been somewhat uneven. For example, in 2015, the then Russian representative himself called for a minute of silence to honour the memory of “all the victims of the monstrous crimes committed in and around Srebrenica two decades ago”. The Council President (New Zealand), who had no prior notice, responded by saying, “I note the request of the representative of the Russian Federation, who asked that we observe a minute of silence to honour the dead of Srebrenica”. The moment of silence was then observed by all in the Chamber.
The three questions posed by these and other cases were a) who should be entitled to request a minute of silence;
b) should advance notice be required; and c) who should make the final decision as to whether or not a minute of silence would be observed. The question of who should be allowed to call for a minute of silence was particularly important because in the recent cases, both appeals had been made by Ukraine, a non-Council Member State. Should this be considered to have established a precedent, then Council members could anticipate that non-Council representatives participating in other Council meetings – such as on the Middle East – might consider themselves equally entitled to call for minutes of silence. And should Council members not respond positively, this would open them to accusations of having a double standard.
These questions have now been resolved through the issuance on 21 August 2023 of the Note by the President S/2023/612. This note resolves that:
Minutes of silence may be requested by Council members and non-Council members alike (no mention is made that such observations can be requested by individuals invited under Rule 39, so presumably they are not entitled to do so);
Requests for minutes of silence shall be communicated to the Council President no later than 60 minutes before the start of the relevant meeting, unless in cases of emergency;
Upon receiving such a request, the Council President will be required to consult with Council members;
It will be the Council President who has the authority to state a ruling on the request, which he or she will convey to all Council members, and also to the requestor if this is not a Council member;
In accordance with rule 19 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure, only the Council President may initiate the observance of minutes of silence; and
Without prejudice to rule 9 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure (which establishes that the first order of business at Council meetings is adoption of the agenda), minutes of silence shall be observed before adoption of the agenda.
Unlike some presidential notes on working methods, where differences among Council members have resulted in vaguely worded guidelines, presidential note S/2023/612 has considerable specificity, and appears to have anticipated most possible scenarios. This being the case, it is likely that in the future, Council members will be able to proceed on requests for minutes of silence with considerable certainty.
The one issue that may emerge in the future relates to the provision for rulings by the Council President. The presidential note does not specify the basis on which the President will arrive at his or her ruling. Thus it is possible that even if the majority of Council members necessary to sustain a procedural vote expresses a view one way or the other, the President may proceed by taking into account only his or her own view of the request. However, in such a scenario, under Rule 30, a dissatisfied Council member could raise a point of order during the meeting to challenge the President’s ruling, in which case the ruling will be submitted to the Council “for immediate decision and it shall stand unless overruled.”
(This update supplements pages 286-287 of the book.)
* The Russian letter noted that President Zelenskyy’s call was “the second time during the Albanian presidency that a moment of silence was introduced without prior notice.” The first instance occurred at a meeting on 23 June 2022 when the Council President himself called for a minute of silence to commemorate those who had lost their lives in the earthquake that struck Afghanistan the day before (S/PV.9075).