The Procedure of the UN Security Council, 4th Edition is available at Oxford University Press in the UK and USA. 

The Procedure of the UN Security Council, 4th Edition

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Updated on 9 August 2018

Chapter 4:   THE COUNCIL CONVENES

Section 1:   Convening a meeting

 

United Kingdom presidency for August 2018 omits consideration of SG’s Kosovo report

 

At a press conference on 1 August 2018, the representative of the United Kingdom confirmed, in response to a question, that Kosovo would not be taken up by the Security Council during her country’s Council presidency for the month ahead.  This was a break with the Council’s longstanding practice of taking up the issue on a quarterly basis.  The Council’s previous consideration of the item had been three months before, on 14 May 2018.  In addition, the Secretary-General’s most recent report on Kosovo had been issued on 30 July and was already before the Council (S/2018/747).

 

The response from the parties was swift in coming.  That same day, Kosovo’s Ambassador to the United States tweeted

 

“A very big Thank You to the United Kingdom for removing #UNMIK[1] report from the agenda during their August presidency.  We have stated several times that it makes no sense to have debates about Kosovo every three months at the Security Council.”

 

As reported in Serbian media, the Serbian Prime Minister stated the previous day that the United Kingdom’s intention to exclude Kosovo from the Council’s agenda during August was “politically insincere and flippant”.  During the Council’s 14 May 2018 meeting (S/PV.8254), Serbia’s UN representative had contended that

 

“Calls for downsizing UNMIK, reducing its budget, changing its mandate and reducing the frequency of Security Council meetings on the subject fall far short of contributing to the creation of a climate conducive to the achievement of those goals [of achieving a lasting solution together].  They only add to the existing rifts both among the members of the Security Council and between Belgrade and Pristina.  At this moment we do not need a back-and-forth on whether the Security Council should devote three hours every three months – 12 hours per year – to this topic.”

 

The United Kingdom, both at UN Headquarters and at its Embassy in Belgrade, provided justification for its initiative.  During her press conference, the UK representative stated, in both her national and presidential capacities, that “the Security Council needs to focus on the most pressing issues of international peace and security.”  While affirming that the issue of Kosovo remains “a very important European regional issue”, she argued that “it does not remain of the same intensity, some 18 years after 1999 . . . that requires such a regular drumbeat of meetings in the Council.”  Instead, she encouraged “both the capitals involved not to get too much involved in the question of tactics here [at the UN], but to set their hearts on that bigger goal [of] working with the European High Representative to normalize their relations”.

 

During previous Security Council meetings on Kosovo, other members had also argued for reducing the periodicity with which the Council reviewed the situation in Kosovo.  At the May 2018 meeting, the United States representative commented, “We welcome recent expressions of support for fewer UNMIK briefings, and we ask for Council agreement on that change.”  The Polish representative stated that “I would like to join my European colleagues in saying that we believe that the situation in Kosovo allows for a substantial reduction of the current reporting cycle.”  Earlier in the year, the representatives of the Netherlands and Sweden both advocated reducing the frequency of the Council’s consideration of the issue from three months to six (S/PV.8176).

 

However, support on the Council for changing the reporting cycle is not universal.  The Russian representative stated in 2018 that Kosovo “continues to be one of the main problems on the regional, European and international agendas”.  After observing that “the potential for serious conflict continues” and that “any incident is liable to spark an outbreak of violence”, he cautioned that “it would be absolutely inappropriate to raise the question of changing the format and periodicity of the Secretariat’s briefings to the Council on Kosovo” (S/PV.8176).  Statements by Chinese representatives have been less direct, but have affirmed that the Council “should maintain its attention on the question of Kosovo”.  And the representative of Equatorial Guinea has stated that the Council “should remain seized of the Kosovo issue”.

 

What is unusual about Kosovo is that, unlike most other conflict situations for which a UN operation has been deployed, the reporting cycle was never established by a resolution or other Security Council decision, but has only been a matter of convention.  The Council’s relevant Monthly Forecasts merely cite resolution 1244 (1999) as having requested the Secretary-General to report to the Council “at regular intervals”.  The understanding followed by Council members since 1999 was that the report would be transmitted to the Security Council on a quarterly basis.  The related practice had been that, as in most other cases, once the report was issued, the Council would meet soon after to consider it.[2]  This consensus as to the frequency for considering the Kosovo issue has been largely respected.  Since 1999, the Council has regularly held four meetings per year to discuss the Secretary-General’s quarterly reports.  Only in 2009 did the Council meet merely three times to take up the item, and that deviation was not political, but rather, attributable to scheduling issues.    

 

Despite the earlier calls, noted above, for less frequent consideration of Kosovo, it is only during the United Kingdom presidency of August 2018 that these delegations have taken steps to actually keep it off the agenda.  This timing is, in all likelihood, attributable to the fact that up to now, the United Kingdom, which has been most vocal in calling for a changed cycle, has not held a Council presidency during a month when Kosovo was due for discussion.

 

There have been, nonetheless, some indications that consideration of Kosovo in August 2018 has not been definitively precluded.  The Serbian Foreign Minister stated his understanding that the United Kingdom would continue consulting the other members “because Russia and China are demanding that the session on Kosovo [be] scheduled for August.”  Serbia’s Prime Minister stated, “We are certainly continuing our diplomatic efforts and we are talking to our permanent allies in the Security Council, so we will see how the issue develops”. 

 

For her part, the United Kingdom representative noted that

 

“we are talking to the Serbian [Permanent Representative to the UN] and also to the Russians about what a more targeted rhythm of meetings might look like and we haven’t reached a conclusion yet. . . .  I can’t speak for the other side, but it is our aim to try and agree a sensible conclusion that we can all accept and then we will come back to the Council with that.”[3]

 

Despite the reported opposition from the Russian Federation and China, it is believed that during August 2018, neither Council member is likely to press for a formal procedural vote on a proposal to convene a meeting on Kosovo, owing to insufficient support.  Only six Council members – Bolivia, China, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation – have not recognized Kosovo’s independence, and among these, Equatorial Guinea and Ethiopia have nuanced positions.[4] 

 

Moreover, the Russian Federation has been in a somewhat awkward position vis-à-vis the issue of Kosovo’s independence since 2014.  That year, when the Russian Federation recognized a Declaration of Independence by the “Republic of Crimea”, a Foreign Ministry statement cited the International Court of Justice’s Advisory Opinion on Kosovo of 22 July 2010 as having “confirmed the fact that unilateral announcement of independence by a part of a state does not violate any provision of international law.” 

 

Both the Council members supporting a reduced frequency, and those opposed to such a change, acknowledge that the fact that Kosovo is not on the August 2018 programme of work does not constitute a decision that the normal quarterly consideration of the issue has been officially changed.  The United States will hold the Council presidency in September 2018, and given the statement by the American representative cited above, it is unlikely that she will propose taking up the Secretary-General’s report that month.  However, Bolivia will serve as president in October, at which time it might possibly seek to take up the 31 July report, even with a two-month delay. 

 

By the month of November, when China will hold the Council presidency, the Secretary-General’s next quarterly report will have been issued, and it is anticipated that the Chinese delegation will seek to include its consideration in its work programme for the month.  It will be recalled that on 7 May 1999, during NATO’s air campaign relating to Kosovo, five bombs fell on the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade.  Although the United States apologized, attributing the attack to mistaken coordinates, the resulting destruction and deaths outraged the Chinese government and populace, and has meant that for China, NATO initiatives with respect to Kosovo have continued to be sensitive.  The fact that the Security Council members advocating a reduced cycle are all members of NATO, or affiliated with it,[5] adds to the complexity of the Chinese position on this issue.

 

In general, the appropriate frequency for considering the various items on its agenda has been problematic for the Security Council.  Beginning in 2006, the Council included in its first comprehensive Note by the President on working methods (S/2006/507) a provision that has been carried forward to the latest comprehensive Note, S/2017/507 which reads:   

 

“62.  The members of the Security Council agree to consider setting a six-month interval as the standard reporting period, unless the situation provides reason for shorter or longer intervals. The members of the Security Council also agree to define reporting intervals as clearly as possible when adopting resolutions.  The members of the Security Council further agree to request oral reporting, which does not require submission of a written report, if the members of the Council consider that it would serve the purpose satisfactorily, and to indicate that request as clearly as possible.” (our emphasis)

 

While these Notes have put forward a six-month reporting period as the standard, in cases where a UN operation is in place, the large majority of reports by the Secretary-General have been requested by the Council at three- or four-month intervals.  In fact, in such situations a six-month or longer cycle is currently followed only in the cases of Cyprus, Western Sahara, and the implementation of commitments under the PSC Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (but not with respect to reports on the UN peacekeeping mission in that country).[6]

 

One possibility for compromise might be, at least as an interim measure, to put into practice the last sentence of paragraph 62 of S/2017/507, namely, the option of requesting “oral reporting, which does not require submission of a written report, if the members of the Council consider that it would serve the purpose satisfactorily”.  If such oral reporting alternated with a written report on a quarterly basis, as was done concerning another agenda item in the past, such an approach could meet the preference for quarterly reporting held by some Council members, but also address the views of other Council members that the profile of the Kosovo issue on the Council’s agenda should be reduced.  An alternating oral reporting format might be coupled with a suggestion made by the Netherlands during the Council’s 7 February 2018 meeting, that “We also favour changing the format of our discussion to consultations”.  In that event, the oral reporting on Kosovo, and the related discussion by Council members, could be held in a streamlined format. 

 

On the other hand, the representative of Serbia raised a valid point in noting, as cited above, that the Council spends only 12 hours per year in formally discussing the Kosovo issue.  It is hard to argue that this has a detrimental impact on the Council’s overall scheduling. 

 

Moreover, in considering any alteration to the periodicity of formally taking up the issue, Council members will need to consider the possible impact on the parties themselves if they come under less frequent scrutiny.  It has been the practice that representatives of both Serbia and Kosovo take the floor at each of the Council’s quarterly meetings on the item, and this has meant that those representatives are present to hear a range of criticisms and calls for action voiced by Council members.  Thus, if the Council members eventually reach consensus to conduct fewer public meetings to consider the Kosovo situation, they will encounter the problem of pressing for the accountability of the parties by other means.

 

(This update supplements pages 193-212 of the book.)

___________________________________

 

[1] United Nations Mission in Kosovo.

[2] Reflecting such practice, the Council’s July 2018 work programme noted that the Secretary-General’s Kosovo report was due by 31 July, and August Monthly Forecast indicated that the report, dated 30 July 2018 (S/2018/747), “is before the Security Council.”

[3] It was not clear from this statement alone, made at her 1 August 2018 press conference, whether discussions aimed at adjusting the overall frequency of the Council's consideration of the Kosovo issue would include some flexibility with regard to taking up the issue during her country’s Presidency in August 2018.

[4] Those Council members which have recognized Kosovo’s independence are Côte d’Ivoire, France, Kuwait, Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Sweden, United Kingdom and United States. 

[5] Sweden is not a NATO member, but as a non-member, contributes to NATO's ongoing Kosovo Force (KFOR), established in 1999.

[6] There is no regular reporting cycle for the UN Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) or the UN Monitoring Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP).