Updated on 8 February 2019
Chapter 4: THE COUNCIL CONVENES
Section 1: Convening a meeting
Security Council reaches agreement to change periodicity of Kosovo meetings
On 7 February 2019, the members of the Security Council resolved a long-running dispute over how often the Council should hold its periodic meetings on the situation in Kosovo. A Note by the President adopted that day states
“The members of the Security Council have agreed upon a schedule of meetings on UNMIK, with concurrent Secretary-General reports to the Council. In 2019, the Council intends to hold briefings on 7 February, in June, and in October. As of 2020, the Council intends to hold briefings twice a year (in April and October) on the issue. The Council will continue to review this issue, taking into account the situation on the ground.” (S/2019/120)
This presidential note marks the first time since 1999 that the Council has established a precise schedule for both the issuance of reports by the Secretary-General on the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and for meetings convened to consider those reports. Unlike the specific reporting cycles contained in Council decisions with respect to other UN missions, the Council’s resolution 1244 (1999) merely requested the Secretary-General to report to the Council “at regular intervals”. Nonetheless, up until 2018 it had been the Council’s established practice that the reports were submitted and discussed every three months in a public meeting.
A serious challenge to this practice occurred in August 2018. As described in a related article on this website, during its Council presidency for that month, the United Kingdom refrained from scheduling a Council meeting to take up the UNMIK report published the previous month. This decision was supported by a number of other Council members, all of which had recognized 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.
After the Secretary-General issued his subsequent quarterly report, the next meeting on Kosovo was convened on 14 November 2018, under the presidency of China. Unexpectedly, events on the ground in Kosovo precipitated an unscheduled meeting the following month, on 17 December (see related article on this website). Both of these meetings provided an opportunity for the two parties, and the Council members, to address the question of how often the Council should meet on this agenda item, and clear divisions remained apparent.
At the November meeting, several Council members not only called for less frequent meetings, but also advocated that the Secretary-General should issue his reports every six months, instead of quarterly. This proposal placed the Secretary-General in a quandary. Although, as mentioned above, the UNMIK reporting cycle was 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. Without such a note, which must be agreed by consensus, it would have been a break with past practice for the Secretary-General to reduce the reporting cycle upon his own initiative.
The issuance on 1 February 2019 of the Secretary-General’s subsequent quarterly UNMIK report (S/2019/102) set the stage for the next contest of wills between Security Council members which favoured maintaining the three-month meeting cycle, and those which advocated reducing it. Of the members composing the Security Council in 2019, ten had recognized Kosovo’s independence (Belgium, Côte d’Ivoire, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Kuwait, Peru, Poland, United Kingdom and United States), while five had not (China, Equatorial Guinea, Indonesia, Russian Federation and South Africa). This suggested that there would be insufficient support in favour of holding a meeting if the matter came to a formal procedural vote.
In fact, the draft work programme for February 2019 originally prepared by the incoming Council President, Equatorial Guinea, scheduled the next quarterly meeting to take place on 7 February. However, in the consultations held during January to discuss the draft programme, Council members remained so divided over the issue that on 1 February, the first working day of the new presidency, it proved impossible to adopt the programme of work.
Intensive discussion took place over the intervening days until, during the week of the proposed date for the meeting, the compromise was reached on issuing the presidential note which officially altered the reporting and meeting cycle. It is believed that the compromise also included an informal understanding that the Council would remain flexible with regard to convening additional meetings should the situation on the ground so warrant. Consensus on the presidential note, and on the informal agreement, paved the way for the meeting to take place on 7 February, as originally proposed (S/PV.8459). This also allowed for the February work programme finally to be adopted.
One value of the compromise inherent in the issuance of the presidential note is that it has taken the onus off Council presidencies which otherwise would have had to risk controversy in deciding whether or not to follow the practice of scheduling a meeting upon issuance of the Secretary-General’s quarterly reports. In addition, as mentioned above, it gave clear direction to the Secretary-General as to the frequency of his reports, rather than forcing him to decide between contradictory requests by Council members.
At the same time, both of the parties – Serbia and Kosovo – were tasked by some Council members during the 7 February 2019 meeting to make more responsible use of the forum provided by such Council meetings. The representative of Germany remarked that the Serbian and Kosovar statements together lasted 46 minutes, which the representative of France noted far exceeded the time limit set out in the Council’s comprehensive working methods note S/2017/507. Some criticism was also voiced over the content or omissions of those statements. Substantively, Council members across a broad spectrum expressed concern that the situation on the ground remained unstable, and many echoed the assessment of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative (SRSG) that “antagonistic gestures and accusations” had not improved the atmosphere for resumed political dialogue between the parties.
The compromise reached on the UNMIK reporting and meeting cycles leaves unresolved a significant difference of opinion between those Council members which wish to see UNMIK downsized or even fully withdrawn, and those which insist on the Mission’s retaining its present strength and mandate. The Secretary-General remains implicated in this disagreement, because those advocating the downsizing or withdrawal of UNMIK have called on him to conduct a strategic review as a first step, a step he may hesitate to take, given the strongly-held views of those wanting the Mission to remain in place as presently constituted. Moreover, the frank depiction of tensions and incidents on the ground in both the SRSG’s recent briefings and the Secretary-General’s reports suggests a caution born the stigma still attached to the United Nations over its premature reduction of personnel from some previous unstable zones of conflict.
(This update supplements pages 193-212 of the book.)
 Since 1999 and until 2018, 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.
 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.
 New member as of 1 January 2019.
 Similarly, Council members were unable to reach consensus to adopt the work programme for September 2018 until after a controversial meeting on the situation in Nicaragua took place.