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Updated on 7 January 2020


Section 8:   Meetings away from Headquarters


Can the Security Council meet away from New York if the US refuses a visa to Iran’s Foreign Minister?


It has been reported that the United States, as host country for UN Headquarters in New York, has refused a visa for the Iranian Foreign Minister to represent his country at the Security Council open debate on the UN Charter, scheduled for 9 January 2020.


This has raised interest in the possibility of the Security Council deciding to hold a meeting in another country.  Such meetings away from UN Headquarters have been provided for, both in the UN Charter and in the Council’s Provisional Rules of Procedure.  Article 28(3) of the Charter states: 


“The Security Council may hold meetings at such places other than the seat of the Organization as in its judgment will best facilitate its work.”


And, the second paragraph of Rule 5 states: 


“Any member of the Security Council or the Secretary-General may propose that the Security Council should meet at another place.  Should the Security Council accept any such proposal, it shall decide upon the place, and the period during which the Council shall meet at such place.”


After the Security Council Chamber was inaugurated in 1952,[1] the Council has held four sets of meetings away from Headquarters:


1972 in Addis Ababa:  13 meetings held under the agenda item “Questions relating to Africa”


1973 in Panama City:  10 meetings held under the item “Peace and security in Latin America”


1990 in Geneva:  one meeting held under the item “The situation in the occupied Arab territories”


2004 in Nairobi:  five meetings held, variously, to take up matters relating to the Sudan, Somalia and cooperation with the African Union


The 1972, 1973 and 2004 meetings away from Headquarters were all held in order to give political priority to the matters to be considered.  The 1990 meeting, however, took place under circumstances somewhat parallel to the those at issue concerning the reported denial of a visa to the Iranian Foreign Minister.


As detailed in the book (pages 58-59), on 21 May 1990, the representative of Bahrain (acting on behalf of the Arab Group) wrote to the Council President asking for an immediate meeting to discuss “The situation in the occupied Arab territories”.  It was known that certain Council members wished to invite Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, to address the meeting.  However, the United States, as host country, made public its intention to refuse Arafat a visa to enter the country to attend the meeting.  The next day, the Council issued two presidential statements.  The first stated that “Following consultations with members of the Security Council ... the first meeting on the matter will be held at Geneva at the United Nations Office, on Friday 25 May 1990 at 3 p.m.”[2]  


The meeting convened on the stated day in Geneva.  While the United States did not state opposition to the meeting taking place, it did oppose extending an invitation to Arafat.  This led to a procedural vote, with only the United States opposed and three abstentions, and thus Arafat was enabled to participate.


As has been noted elsewhere in the book (pages 374-380), the Security Council may publish its decisions in any format which it decides upon on a case-by-case basis.  The decision to convene the 1990 meeting in Geneva was taken in the format of a presidential statement, which therefore signified that there was consensus on the part of all Council members.  In contrast, the decisions to hold the 1972, 1973 and 2004 meetings away from Headquarters were all published in the format of resolutions. 


If in the present case, a proposal to meet away from Headquarters to permit participation of Iran’s Foreign Minister would be made in the format of draft resolution, the question is being asked whether this would be considered a procedural matter, to which the veto would not apply, or a substantive matter.  Because each of the 1972, 1973 and 2004 resolutions was adopted unanimously, there is no precedent to point conclusively to such a decision being procedural.  However, given the fact that opposition to convening meetings at Headquarters has repeatedly led to votes which practice has confirmed as procedural, it is virtually certain that a vote to hold a meeting away from Headquarters would similarly be considered procedural, and thus immune to a veto.


One other factor to consider in this connection is that in the Charter, Article 28(3), which provides for meetings away from Headquarters, comes in Chapter V under the heading “Procedure”.

(This update supplements pages 56-60 of the book.)


[1] Before the United Nations had permanently located to its New York Headquarters, Council meetings were held in 1946 in London. Then, while the General Assembly was meeting in Paris in 1948 and again in 1951–2, the Council decided also to meet there.

[2] S/21309.  The second statement (S/21310) provided that the verbatim record of the meeting in Geneva would subsequently be issued in New York.



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