Updated on 30 July 2016
Chapter 3: THE PEOPLE
Section 3: Elected members
Preparing incoming Council members under the new election timetable
Two weeks after the completion of the election in June 2016 of five non-permanent members to join the Security Council on 1 January 2017, the Council adopted a Note by the President (S/2016/619) which contains provisions relating to the preparation of newly elected members. (See the related article on this website relating to the provisions contained in the same Note on the appointment of Chairs of the Council’s subsidiary bodies.)
S/2016/619, initiated by Japan as Chair of the Council’s Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions (IWG), is the sixth Note by the President which has contained provisions relating to the preparation of newly elected members. One important provision in the new Note
“invites the newly elected members of the Council to observe all meetings of the Council and . . . the
informal consultations of the whole for a period of three months, as from 1 October immediately
preceding their term of membership.”
This effectively extends the period of observation for new members by six weeks over the previous arrangements. However, for the first time, the Council has established some elements of conditionality with respect to which meetings can be attended. The Note provides that the Council
“will not invite the newly elected members to a specific private meeting of the Council or to specific
informal consultations of the whole if a request to that effect is made by a member of the Council
where exceptional circumstances exist. The newly elected members will not be invited to the meetings
of the Council or the informal consultations of the whole related to the selection and appointment of
S/2016/619 further provides that newly elected members “may be invited to the monthly luncheon with the Secretary-General held in December immediately preceding their term of membership, at the discretion of the President of the Council for that month.” Such an arrangement had been in effect informally for a number of years, but it is now set out in writing for the first time.
During the Security Council’s open debate on working methods in July 2016 (S/PV.7740), Argentina’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs recalled that it was his country, during its Council Presidency of February 2000, that encouraged the adoption of the first Note by the President (S/2000/155) which invited recently elected members to participate as observers in the Council’s closed consultations of the whole “for the purpose of acquainting themselves with the activities of the Council.” This Note was considered revolutionary at the time, because for the Council’s first 55 years of existence, newly elected members attended closed consultations only after their terms began on 1 January of the year following their election. The sensitivity surrounding the idea of inviting elected members to observe closed consultations prior to the start of their terms is 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 decided to be one month, to begin on 1 December. A Note by the President adopted two years later (S/2002/1276) maintained the one-month general observation period, but added a provision that if an incoming member would assume the Council Presidency in the first two months of its term,
“it will be invited to attend the informal consultations of the whole for the period of two months
immediately preceding its term of membership (that is, with effect from 1 November).”
This two-month observation period for an incoming member scheduled to serve as Council President within the first two months of its term was reconfirmed by Notes S/2004/939, S/2006/507 and S/2010/507.
The first comprehensive Note by the President on the Council’s working methods, S/2006/507, extended the general observation period for incoming elected members from one month to “six weeks immediately preceding their term of membership”. This six-week observation period was reconfirmed in the next comprehensive Note, S/2010/507.
The 2000, 2002 and 2004 Notes by the President stipulated that the incoming delegations attending closed consultations of the whole “should be represented at the level of Permanent Representative or Deputy Permanent Representative” and that for that purpose, “one seat will be assigned to each delegation at the side of the consultations room.” This stipulation was dropped from the 2006 and 2010 Notes, in part because by that time, the role of political coordinators had become more central to the work of delegations, and it was thought that they, as well as experts on occasion, would also benefit from observing closed consultations. Although no longer set out in writing, it is still generally assumed that during the period of observation, an incoming member will send only one representative to each session of closed consultations.
Another evolution in the observation period has occurred with respect to the Council’s subsidiary bodies. Attending meetings of subsidiary bodies was not provided for in the 2000 Note by the President. However, the 2002 Note stated that incoming members, beginning one month prior to taking up their seats on the Council, could attend “formal meetings of the subsidiary bodies” (italics added). The Note also stated that Chairs should not “deviate from Council practice” in this regard “without guidance from the Council”, which was interpreted as meaning that incoming members should not attend any informal meetings of subsidiary bodies without the Council’s explicit permission. However, two years later, the 2004 Note by the President extended the invitation to incoming members to attend “both formal and informal meetings of the subsidiary bodies of the Council” (italics added). From 2006 onwards, including in the 2016 Note, the invitation to incoming members has been to attend “all meetings” of the Council’s subsidiary bodies.
In contrast to the higher level of representation for attending the Council’s closed consultations which was stipulated in the 2000, 2002 and 2004 Notes, according to the 2002 and 2004 Notes, attendance at the meetings of subsidiary bodies could be “by any one member of their delegations”. No statement as to the level of representation for attending meetings of the Council’s subsidiary bodies has been made in any Note since 2006.
The steady flow to the Council President of reports (notably by the Secretary-General), as well as of letters, some of which require a response by the Council, are an important part of the information under consideration by the Council with respect to the matters on its agenda. And as pointed out in the book (page 437), decisions regarding the publication as official Council documents of letters and reports “is a surprisingly complex and politically sensitive area of the Security Council’s practice”. Therefore, after the observation period for new members had been in effect for several years, it was felt that the preparation of incoming new members should include their receipt of “all relevant communications”. Accordingly, a provision requesting the Secretariat to provide these documents to the newly elected members during their period of observation was included in S/2006/507 and S/2010/507, and now in S/2016/619.
Looking at the six relevant Notes by the President, it is evident that during the 16-year period from 2000 to 2016, 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/2006/619.
As quoted on page 130 of the book, the transition onto the Council has been described by some incoming elected members as “brutal”, with one non-permanent representative asserting that it takes at least six months to learn how the Council operates. At a time when the Council’s working methods and the demands of its heavy substantive agenda have become increasingly complex, the expanded observation period provided for in the most recent Note by the President can be seen as responding to a genuine need. And it can be expected that the incoming members’ greater familiarity with the Council’s functioning will benefit not only those members, but also the Council itself, by effecting smoother transitions from one year’s membership to the next.