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Updated on 30 January 2020

Chapter 3:   THE PEOPLE

Section 3:   Elected members


2019 presidential note expands access of incoming elected members to the Council’s work prior to assuming their seats


On 27 December 2019, after two years of negotiations in the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions (IWG), under the chairmanship of Kuwait, the Security Council adopted presidential note S/2019/993 which expands the access of incoming elected members to the Council’s work prior to assuming their seats.  This is the latest of eight presidential notes which have increasingly provided for broader and earlier access of the incoming members.[1]


S/2019/993 is comprised of three operative paragraphs, two of which contain new provisions, while the third restates a qualification set out earlier in the comprehensive presidential note S/2017/507. 


Paragraph a) of the new note provides that the Security Council


“may invite the newly elected members of the Council to observe informal consultations – as appropriate, and strictly without participation and with full respect for the confidentiality of the deliberations – on Council outcome documents for a period of three months, as from 1 October immediately preceding their term of membership, in addition to observing all meetings of the Council and its subsidiary bodies and the informal consultations of the whole, as already stated in paragraph 140 of the note by the President of 30 August 2017 (S/2017/507)”.


This is noteworthy because none of the seven previous notes provided for incoming members to attend consultations relating to the negotiation of outcome documents.


Paragraph (b) of S/2019/993 merely restates the condition previously set out by paragraph 141 of S/2017/507 that


“notwithstanding the foregoing measure, the Council will not invite the newly elected members to a specific private meeting of the Council or to specific informal negotiations of the whole if a request to that effect is made by a member of the Council where exceptional circumstances exist”.


Paragraph (e) of presidential note S/2019/993 in effect constitutes an amendment to paragraph 140 of S/2017/507.  Whereas S/2017/507 invited the Secretariat to provide all communications of the Council to the incoming members as from 1 October, the new note invites the Secretariat to do so as from 1 August, thereby increasing the time period from three to five months.


Looking back at the history of granting to the incoming members early access to the Council’s work, in 2016, during the Council’s open debate on working methods in July 2016 (S/PV.7740) Argentina’s Deputy Foreign Minister recalled that his country had initiated the adoption of the first presidential note (S/2000/155) which invited incoming members to participate as observers in the Council’s closed consultations “for the purpose of acquainting themselves with the activities of the Council.”  At the time, this note was considered revolutionary because for the Council’s first 55 years of existence, newly elected members attended closed consultations only after their terms began.  The sensitivity surrounding the idea of inviting incoming members to observe closed consultations beforehand was evidenced by the fact that the 2000 note declared that the delegations of incoming members “should respect the confidentiality of those discussions”.


Pursuant to S/2000/155, the duration of the incoming members’ observation period was initially set at one month.  In 2002, provision was made for a longer period for any incoming member which would hold the Council presidency during the first two months of its term.[2]  In 2006, the observation period for incoming members was extended to six weeks (or two months in the case early presidencies).[3]  Then beginning in 2016, the period was extended to its present three months for all incoming members.[4]


Another evolution in the observation period occurred with respect to the Council’s subsidiary organs.  In 2002, incoming members were invited to attend formal meetings of such organs one month prior to taking up their seats.  This invitation was extended to informal meetings of subsidiary bodies in 2004.[5]  


The Council members receive a steady flow of internal reports and advance copies of reports by the Secretary-General, as well as letters, many of which require a response from the Council.  This documentation is an important part of the information considered by Council members with respect to the matters on their agenda.  Therefore, after the observation period for new members had been in effect for several years, it was felt that the preparation of incoming members should also include their receipt of “all relevant communications”.  Accordingly, a provision requesting the Secretariat to provide all such communications to the newly elected members during their observation period has now been included in four presidential notes since 2006.[6]


Looking at the eight relevant Notes by the President, it is evident that during the 20-year period from 2000 to 2019, there has been a significant evolution from the groundbreaking, yet limited, practices and timeframe for preparing incoming members adopted in 2000, to the considerably expanded provisions of S/2017/507 and S/2019/933.   


At a time when the Council’s working methods, and the demands of its heavy agenda, have become increasingly complex, the new opportunity to observe informal consultations on outcome documents, as well as the extension to five months of the period for receiving Council documentation, can be seen as responding to the genuine needs of the incoming members.  It can also be expected that the new members’ greater familiarity with the Council’s functioning will benefit not only those members, but also the Council itself, by effecting more seamless transitions from one year’s membership to the next.


Moreover, although the Intergovernmental Negotiations on Security Council reform still seem far from reaching agreement on enlarging the Council, the expanded attendance of the five incoming members at various private meetings and consultations for three months of each year is acclimating Council members to having 20 delegations in their meeting room rather than 15.  This ultimately could make the experience of transitioning to a larger Council go more smoothly.


(This update supplements page 130 in the book.)


[1] The previous notes were S/2000/155, S/2002/1276, S/2004/939, S/2006/507, S/2010/507, S/2006/619 and S/2017/507.  For details about these notes, see the related article on this website.

[2] S/2002/1276.

[3] S/2006/507 and S/2010/507.

[4] S/2016/619, S/2017/507 and S/2019/993.

[5] See S/2002/1276 and S/2004/939.

[6] See S/2006/507, S/2010/507, S/2016/619, and S/2019/993.



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