Updated on 2 January 2015
Chapter 4: THE COUNCIL CONVENES
Section 3: Agenda and Summary statement of matters of which the Council is seized
Procedural vote on new DPRK agenda item
By a letter to the Council President dated 5 December 2014, ten Security Council members requested that “the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea be formally placed on the Council’s agenda without prejudice to the item on non-proliferation” in that country (S/2014/872). (The Council has been meeting on the agenda item “Non-proliferation/Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” since 14 October 2006.) The letter was signed by the representatives of Australia, Chile, France, Jordan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Republic of Korea, Rwanda, the United Kingdom and the United States. The representative of Rwanda later noted that the signatories were from all five of the UN’s regional groups (S/PV.7353). The letter called attention to the “scale and gravity of human rights violations detailed in the comprehensive report undertaken by the Human Rights Council commission of inquiry on human rights” in the DPRK (A/HRC/25/63, also published as S/2014/276). In this light, the ten signatories requested that pursuant to Rule 2 of the Council’s Provisional Rules of Procedure, a Council meeting be held at which senior officials from the Secretariat and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights would brief the Council under the agenda item “The situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”. It will be recalled that Rule 2 provides that “The President shall call a meeting of the Security Council at the request of any member of the Security Council.”
As is stated on page 235 of the book,
“For meetings convened pursuant to Rules 2 or 3, the convention of many years’ standing has been that if a meeting is requested without qualification, it will be held at a time the Council determines to be appropriate. If the letter of request specifies that an ‘urgent’ meeting is being sought, the convention has generally been that the Council will convene within the next two days. This was emphasized by the representative of France, in a meeting held on 26 June 1956, when he stated: ‘In the normal course, when an urgent question is placed on this Council’s agenda, it is decided within forty-eight hours’ (S/PV.729). If the letter of request specifies that an
‘immediate’ meeting is being sought, the convention has generally been that the meeting would be convened within a day’s time. Nevertheless, cases have been cited earlier in this chapter of meetings which were not convened in conformity with this general understanding.”
As the letter of 5 December 2014 did not qualify the requested meeting as “urgent” or “immediate”, it fell to the Council President, in consultation with the other Council members, to decide the appropriate timing (see pages 193-212 of the book). The meeting eventually was convened on 22 December, eleven working days after the request had been made, a delay which was remarked upon by Council members such as Australia (S/PV.7353).
In the time between the sending of the letter and the convening of the Council meeting, the General Assembly on 18 December adopted resolution 69/188 on the “Situation of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea”. In that resolution, adopted by a vote of 116 in favour and 20 against, with 53 abstentions, the Assembly decided to submit the report of the commission of inquiry on the DPRK to the Security Council, “and encourages the Council to consider the relevant conclusions and recommendations of the commission and take appropriate action to ensure accountability, including through consideration of referral of the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the International Criminal Court and consideration of the scope for effective targeted sanctions against those who appear to be most responsible for acts that the commission has said may constitute crimes against humanity” (paragraph 8). As will be recalled, Article 11(3) of the Charter provides that the Assembly “may call the attention of the Security Council to situations which are likely to endanger international peace and security”. Article 11(2) provides that any question relating to the maintenance of international peace and security “on which action is necessary shall be referred to the Security Council by the General Assembly”, action in this context being widely understood to mean “enforcement” action. Such “action” would encompass any referral to the ICC or adoption of sanctions, both of which measures would require decision by the Council under Chapter VII of the Charter.
When the Council meeting convened at 3:10 p.m. on 22 December, the President immediately gave the floor to those who wished to make statements. The representative of China stated his objections to including the human rights situation in the DPRK in the Council’s agenda. While not denying “the existence of large-scale violations of human rights” in the DPRK, the Chinese representative contended that under the Charter, the Security Council “is not a forum designed for involvement in human rights issues”. Additionally, he stated that the Council should “refrain from doing anything that might cause an escalation of tensions”. Speaking next, the representative of Australia qualified the situation in the DPRK as a “threat to the maintenance of international peace and security”, thereby implying that the situation would fall within the Council’s Charter mandate. As to other possible informal meeting formats under which the Council might have considered the issue, the Australian representative argued that given the “gravity and systematic nature of the human rights violations” in the DPRK, and the threat to the maintenance of international peace and security, “we do not consider that this can be appropriately considered by the Council on an ad hoc or informal basis”. Such alternative formats to a formal meeting (see pages 210-211 of the book) would have avoided the step of adopting a formal agenda item on the situation in the DPRK, but consequently, the item would not have formal standing before the Council.
In light of the Chinese and Australian statements, the Council President then put to a vote the provisional agenda, “The situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”. The agenda received eleven votes in favour – those of the ten Council members which had signed the Rule 2 request, and also Argentina. Voting against were China and the Russian Federation, while Chad and Nigeria abstained. The agenda was thus adopted. The previous most recent cases of a provisional agenda being put to a vote were in 2006, relating to Myanmar, and in 2005, relating to human settlements in Zimbabwe. By way of comparison, in the 2006 procedural vote, the agenda received ten votes in favour, four against (China, Congo, Qatar, and the Russian Federation), and one abstention (Tanzania) (S/PV.5526). In the 2005 procedural vote, the agenda received nine votes in favour – the minimum required to be adopted – with five members voting against (Algeria, Benin, China, the Russian Federation, and Tanzania), and one abstention (Brazil) (S/PV. 5237).
At the 22 December 2014 meeting, following the procedural vote, the President briefly suspended the meeting, and then the meeting resumed to hear two briefings, followed by statements by Council members. In addition to speaking to the substance of the human rights violations under discussion, many Council members addressed their reasons for supporting or opposing the Council’s consideration of the situation in the DPRK in a formal meeting. Those favouring such consideration invoked the scale, severity and systematic nature of the abuses which, they contended, amounted to crimes against humanity and threatened regional stability. Some speakers argued that silence by the Council risked contributing to the climate of impunity in the DPRK. Several members also linked the human rights abuses in the DPRK to the nuclear threat posed by that country.
The representatives of China and the Russian Federation, in speaking against consideration of the situation in the DRPK by the Security Council at a formal meeting, repeated the argument that human rights issues do not fall within the Council’s Charter mandate. The representative of Chad, who had abstained on the procedural vote, questioned the timing of raising the matter in the Council. He also pointed to the existence of a “double standard”, in light of the fact that “massive and flagrant violations of human rights” occurred elsewhere without being addressed by the international community. In addition, the representatives of Chad, China and the Russian Federation highlighted the risk that formal consideration by the Council, rather than improving the situation in the DPRK, was likely to exacerbate it.
At the 22 December meeting, many Council members spoke to the importance of continued monitoring by the Council of the situation in the DPRK through regular meetings and briefings, now that the item on the situation in the DPRK had been formally added to the Council’s agenda. Similarly, the letter of 5 December stated that holding a meeting under the new agenda item “will enable Council members to receive further information from the Secretariat on this situation and its implications for international peace and security”. This refers to the fact that once the Council holds a formal meeting under a new agenda item, that item is automatically added to the Summary statement of matters of which the Security Council is seized, often called “the Council’s agenda”. This is in keeping with paragraph 52 of the 2010 Note by the President S/2010/507, which states: “The practice of including an agenda item in the summary statement once it has been adopted at a formal meeting of the Security Council will remain unchanged.” Pursuant to paragraphs 53 and 54 of the same Note, the new item will remain on the Summary statement for three years after the Council’s last formal meeting on the item, unless the Council decides otherwise. However, inclusion on the Summary statement, in and of itself, does not obviate the need to re-adopt the agenda item at each meeting convened to continue consideration of the item. That is because Rule 9 requires that “The first item of the provisional agenda for each meeting of the Security Council shall be the adoption of the agenda”. This means that at any subsequent meeting on the new item, one or more Council members could again object to meeting under that agenda item, necessitating another procedural vote. However, it has long been the Council’s practice that once a procedural vote on a new agenda item has occurred, further objections to that item will not be made at a formal meeting.
The UN Journal for the day the Council convened to take up the situation in the DPRK contained no notice of a Council meeting on that topic (Journal No. 2014/244). This also had been the case when the Council held the formal meeting on 15 September 2006 at which the procedural vote on the agenda item relating to Myanmar was put to a vote (Journal No. 2006/178). In contrast, Journal No. 2005/142 did contain a notice of the meeting at which the procedural vote on the agenda item relating to human settlements issues in Zimbabwe was put to a vote. This is explained by the fact that between the 2005 notice in the Journal and the lack of notice in 2006 and 2014, the Council had adopted its Note by the President, S/2006/507. Paragraph 1 of that Note (and of the subsequent Note S/2010/507) states: “The provisional agenda for formal meetings of the Council should be included in the Journal of the United Nations provided that it has been approved in informal consultations”. Notice for the 2006 and 2014 meetings therefore could not be included in the Journal because the Council members had been unable to reach consensus beforehand. (This update supplements pages 220-222 of the book.)