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The Procedure of the UN Security Council, 4th Edition

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Updated on 18 January 2019

Chapter 4:   THE COUNCIL CONVENES

Section 1:   Convening a meeting

In 2019, Security Council will again confront issue of how often to meet on Kosovo

 

In February, the Security Council will have before it the Secretary-General’s January report on the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).  This will be the first occasion in 2019 when the Council members will be confronted by the issue of how often to meet to consider the situation in Kosovo.

 

Up until 2018, it had been the Council’s established practice to consider the Secretary-General’s UNMIK reports in public meetings held on a quarterly basis.[1]  However, a serious challenge to this practice occurred in August 2018.  During its Council presidency for that month, the United Kingdom refrained from scheduling a Council meeting to take up the report published the previous month.[2]  This decision was supported by a number of other Council members, all of which recognize Kosovo as an independent State, as well as by Kosovar officials.  Other Council members were known to have preferred that the meeting take place according to the normal scheduling, and strong disapproval was voiced over the omission by the Russian Federation, as well as the Serbian government.  Nonetheless, no Council member which was opposed to skipping the meeting took the risk of putting the matter to a procedural vote (see related article on this website).

 

What is unusual about Kosovo is that, unlike most other conflict situations for which a UN mission has been deployed, a precise reporting cycle was never established by a resolution or other Security Council decision.  The Council’s relevant Monthly Forecasts merely cite paragraph 20 of resolution 1244 (1999), which requested the Secretary-General to report to the Council “at regular intervals”.  Thus it had been only a matter of convention that the reports were submitted and discussed every three months. 

 

In a press conference on 1 August 2018, the representative of the United Kingdom offered justification for not scheduling a meeting that month.  While affirming that the issue of Kosovo remained “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”.[3]

 

After the Secretary-General issued his subsequent quarterly report,[4] the next meeting on Kosovo was convened on 14 November 2018, under the presidency of China (S/PV.8399).  That meeting provided an opportunity for the two parties, and Security Council members, to address the question of how often the Council should meet on this agenda item.  Serbia’s First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister stated that the failure of the Council to meet in August had created an “unnecessary adversarial atmosphere between Belgrade and Pristina”, as well as “division among Security Council members.”  After referring to a number of violent incidents which had taken place, he challenged, “I do not understand how this situation can be characterized as stable by anybody.”  In contrast, Vlora Çitaku, referred to by some, but not all, Council members, as the Kosovo Ambassador to the United States, argued that Council meetings did not help peace or dialogue, but rather the Council Chamber was being misused as “a theatre” to “fuel our domestic audiences”, which should not be allowed. 

 

When the Security Council members took the floor, clear divisions over the holding of Council meetings on Kosovo remained apparent.  Among those Council members which recognize Kosovo as an independent State,[5] the United Kingdom representative again advocated reducing the frequency of the meetings.  In this connection, she affirmed, “It is important that the cycle of discussion in the Council reflects reality on the ground.”  The representatives of the Netherlands, Poland, and Sweden similarly supported less frequent meetings.

 

Other Council members which had recognized Kosovo seemed cautious about whether the timing was right for changing the periodicity of the Council’s consideration.  Rather than addressing this issue explicitly, in their statements they highlighted both progress achieved and remaining areas of concern.

 

The representative of the Russian Federation, on the other hand, asserted, “We are not impressed by the rosy picture that some in this Chamber continue to paint”.  After affirming that the situation in Kosovo was “seriously worrying”, he stated his belief that “it is essential to maintain the quarterly Security Council meetings on Kosovo”.  Somewhat less directly, the representatives of China and Kazakhstan, which, like the Russian Federation, had not recognized Kosovo, recommended that the Council should remain attentive to the matter, but did not take specific positions on how often the Council should meet.

 

At the November meeting, two proposals were raised which, if positively responded to by the Secretary-General, would risk putting him on a collision course with some members of the Council.  As noted by Serbia’s Minister, the United States representative had previously written to the Secretary-General asking him to initiate a strategic review of UNMIK and to develop an exit strategy, requests which the American representative repeated at the meeting.  While not advocating an exit strategy, the representatives of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden also voiced support for a strategic review, with a view to refocusing UNMIK’s efforts and, by implication, reducing its size.  This proposal places the Secretary-General in the position of having to decide whether or not to conduct a strategic review in response to the Council members who support reducing UNMIK’s role, while being aware that other Council members are adamant that the Mission should not be downsized at the present juncture.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, in his briefing to the Council, evidenced caution when, inter alia, he characterized the situation in Kosovo as “still dominated by frequent adversarial actions on the ground, many of which carry real consequences for the populations.”

 

In addition, at the November meeting, several Security Council members not only called for less frequent meetings, but also advocated that the Secretary-General issue his reports every six months, instead of quarterly.[6]  This proposal was supported by the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Sweden, as well as the representative of Poland, who stated that while the situation on the ground was “far from perfect, it certainly does not warrant a quarterly cycle of reporting.”  This proposal also places the Secretary-General in a quandary.  Although, as mentioned above, the UNMIK reporting cycle is not set out in a formal Security Council decision, the Council’s customary practice is that when it wishes to permanently alter an established reporting cycle, it issues a Note by the President to that effect.[7]  As pointed out in the book (page 429), presidential notes must be agreed by consensus.  Given the positions voiced by other Council members, it is evident that not all would support such a note, and it would be a break with past practice for the Secretary-General to reduce the reporting cycle upon his own initiative.

 

A third proposal was voiced by the representative of the Netherlands, who repeated his earlier position that the Council should take up the Kosovo situation in closed consultations, rather than in a public meeting.  While this would eliminate the criticism by the Kosovar official, mentioned above, that public Council meetings were being used as “theatre”, it would mean that the two parties would themselves no longer be able to participate in the Council’s deliberations, nor would they hear directly the positions expressed by the Council members.  For his part, the Russian representative contended that it was essential that the Council continue to hold the meetings in an open format.

 

Unexpectedly, events on the ground in Kosovo precipitated an unscheduled meeting the following month.  On 14 December 2018, Kosovo’s Parliament approved legislation to transform the Kosovo Security Force into a regular armed force and significantly expand the number of active troops.  In response, Serbia requested an urgent meeting of the Security Council,[8] which was convened on 17 December.[9] 

 

The meeting was addressed by the President of Serbia and by Hashim Thaçi, who was referred to by some Council members as the President of Kosovo.  After the two leaders made statements, the Russian representative conveyed that his delegation also had asked for the meeting (albeit not as a formal Rule 2 request in writing).  After making a number of substantive points, the Russian representative connected the situation on the ground to the procedural disagreements occurring in the Council when he referred to “the counterproductive attempts by Pristina’s patrons to conceal the deteriorating situation in Kosovo from the international community and create obstacles to the regular consideration of the Kosovo problem in the Security Council.”  That kind of policy, he asserted, “is one of the reasons for the current crisis situation there, because it gives the Kosovo authorities a feeling that anything is permitted and no one is accountable.”  Affirming that the Council must continue to be focused on the situation, he concluded that the “quarterly cycle for the Secretary-General’s reports on UNMIK’s activity should be strictly observed.”  Moreover, in addition to regular meetings held every three months, he warned that he could not “exclude the possibility that if the adverse trends escalate it could be necessary to convene new emergency meetings of the Security Council.”

 

Certain other Council members also affirmed the necessity of the Security Council remaining focused on Kosovo.  The Chinese representative stated that the Council should remain seized of the issue, while the representative of Kazakhstan asserted that the current state of affairs in the region “requires our continued attention as a matter of relevance in the agenda.”

 

The rest of the Council members limited their statements to the substance of the developments on the ground and did not specifically address the procedural aspects of the Council’s consideration, with the exception of the representative of the Netherlands.  In his intervention, he regretted the fact “that some members of the Council insisted on having a public debate today rather than an interactive dialogue.”

 

In addition to the decision by the Kosovo Parliament regarding its armed forces, several other new sources of tension were referred to by a number of Security Council members at the December meeting.  Given the likelihood that these tensions will not substantially abate in the near future, it will be in a politically charged atmosphere that the Council confronts the question of how to procedurally address the Kosovo situation in 2019. 

 

Of the present Security Council members, ten have recognized Kosovo’s independence (Belgium, Côte d’Ivoire, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Kuwait, Peru, Poland, United Kingdom and United States), while five have not (China, Equatorial Guinea, Indonesia, Russian Federation and South Africa).  This suggests that there would be insufficient votes in favour of holding a meeting if the presidency for a certain month declined to put Kosovo on the Council’s work programme.  On the other hand, it is believed that if a Council presidency decided to follow the previously established cycle and scheduled a meeting on Kosovo during their month, the other Council members would respect this.

 

If the regular reporting cycle is followed, the months in 2019 during which a meeting on Kosovo would customarily be held will be February, May, August and November.  The respective presidencies for those months are Equatorial Guinea, Indonesia, Poland and the United Kingdom.  Thus the first two occasions on which the question of the frequency of meetings will again arise will be during the presidencies of two Council members which have not recognized Kosovo, whereas the last two occasions in 2019 will fall during the presidencies of two Council members which have recognized Kosovo and which, moreover, have emphatically spoken in favour reducing the meeting frequency. 

 

It remains to be seen, however, to what extent either a stabilization, or a deterioration, of the situation on the ground might impact upon the approach of each presidency, and of the Security Council as a whole. 

 

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

______________________________

[1] Since 1999, the Council had regularly held four meetings per year to discuss these reports.  Only in 2009 did the Council meet merely three times to take up the reports, and that deviation was not political, but rather, attributable to scheduling issues. 

[2] S/2018/747.

[3] Later she stated that her presidency would have convened a meeting in August if there had been progress on normalization, but that sadly there had been none (S/PV.8399 of 14 November 2018).

[4] S/2018/981.

[5] The 2018 Council members which had recognized Kosovo’s independence were Côte d’Ivoire, France, Kuwait, Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Sweden, United Kingdom and United States. 

[6] The Council’s most recent comprehensive presidential note on working methods, S/2017/507, provides that “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.”  This provision notwithstanding, in cases where a UN operation is in place, the large majority of reports have been requested by the Council to be submitted at three- or four-month intervals.  In fact, in such situations a six-month or longer cycle is currently followed only with respect to Cyprus and Western Sahara.

[7] In contrast, if a one-time change to a reporting cycle is decided, the Council customarily uses the format of a letter from the Council President to the Secretary-General.

[8] S/2018/1111 of 14 December 2018.

[9] S/PV.8427.