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Updated on 31 October 2020

Chapter 3:   THE PEOPLE

Section 10:   Secretary-General and the Secretariat


In 1976, Waldheim wrote an unpublished letter on Lebanon citing Art. 99 but Council did not meet


On 29 March 1976, Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim addressed an unpublished letter to the Security Council President on the situation in Lebanon.  After explicitly noting his authority under Article 99 of the Charter, Waldheim expressed his view that unless there was a ceasefire, the civil war in Lebanon risked becoming a threat to international peace and security.  After receiving the letter, the Council did not decide to convene a meeting on the matter at that time.


Probably owing to this rebuff, Waldheim did not mention his initiative in his memoirs, In the Eye of the Storm.[1]  The letter’s existence was, however, known ‘in the house’ by a number of UN staff.  One of the rare times it is mentioned in print, albeit with a contradictory timeline, is in James Daniel Ryan’s The United Nations under Kurt Waldheim, 1972-1981.[2]  On page 75, Ryan stated,


“In April, mere months before his hoped-for reelection, Waldheim courageously attempted to stimulate action by exercising a seldom-used power of the secretary-general.  Under article 99 of the charter, the secretary-general can raise any matter deemed to threaten international peace.  Waldheim informed the Security Council that further deterioration in the Lebanese situation carried implications extending beyond that country’s boundaries, and he justified his initiative because cease-fire had become an urgent concern.” (our emphasis)


On page 238 of his Chronology, Ryan used a different date when he wrote that on 30 March 1976, ‘Waldheim, acting under Article 99, tells the Security Council that the Lebanese situation may threaten international peace.’


This case brings out the interface between Article 99 and Rule 3 of the Security Council’s Provisional Rules of Procedure.  Article 99 reads:


"The Secretary-General may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security."


Thus Article 99 itself does not set out any requirement that the Security Council must meet upon receipt of a communication from the Secretary-General invoking his/her Article 99 authority.  Such an obligation incurs, rather, under the relevant clause of Rule 3, which reads:


“The President shall call a meeting of the Security Council . . . if the Secretary-General brings to the attention of the Security Council any matter under Article 99.”


The Security Council, as is the case with any of the UN principal organs, can decide explicitly or implicitly to suspend any of its rules in a given instance.  Because the obligation to meet upon receipt of a communication from the Secretary-General pursuant to Article 99 is set out only in Rule 3, the Council was therefore within its right to, in effect, suspend Rule 3 in deciding not to convene a meeting in response to Waldheim’s letter, whereas had the obligation to meet been set out in the Charter, this of course would not have been the case.

That the Council members can implicitly suspend Rule 3 has been repeatedly indicated by its practice with respect to requests from non-Council UN Member States pursuant to the first clause of the rule, which reads:

“The President shall call a meeting of the Security Council if a dispute or situation is brought to the attention of the Security Council under Article 35 . . . of the Charter”.

On pages 201-212 in our book are set out numerous cases in which the Security Council did not convene a meeting after receiving a written request pursuant to Rule 3 from a non-Council Member State requesting that the Council meet in order to consider a specific dispute or situation.  The most recent case of the Security Council implicitly suspending Rule 3 by not meeting in response to a written Rule 3 request from a non-Council Member State was the 3 August 2020 letter from the Foreign Minister of Pakistan requesting that the Council "urgently convene a meeting to ascertain the current trajectory of Indian illegal and unilateral actions [in Jammu and Kashmir], which pose a serious threat to peace and security in South Asia."  The Council did not thereafter convene the requested formal meeting.  It did, however, take up the matter some time later in closed consultations where however, by practice, no representative of Pakistan was able to participate.


In the case of Waldheim's 1976 letter, days after he sent it to the Security Council, Syrian forces entered Lebanon on 9 April.  On 9 June, Syria accepted the deployment in Lebanon of peacekeepers organized by the League of Arab States, but the civil war continued to spiral out of control.  These developments notwithstanding, the Security Council did not meet on the situation in Lebanon throughout the rest of the year.


See also our article, “How many times have Secretaries-General acted under Article 99 of the Charter?”

(This update supplements pages 162 to 165 of the book.)


[1] Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 1985.

[2] The Scarecrow Press, Lanham MD, 2001.




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