Updated on 19 August 2015
Chapter 4: THE COUNCIL CONVENES
Section 3: Agenda and Summary statement of matters of which the Council is seized
Decision by resolution to delete “Non-proliferation” agenda item in 10 years’ time
When UN Member States refer to a matter as being “on the agenda of the Security Council”, they generally mean that the matter is listed as still under consideration in the Summary Statement of matters of which the Security Council is seized. This list is published each week by the Secretary-General pursuant to Rule 11 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure.
Since the first Summary Statement was issued in 1946, the practice has been for the Secretary-General to add to the Summary Statement each new agenda item taken up at a formal meeting of the Council, and to retain the item on all subsequent Summary Statements until some action is taken by the Council to indicate that its consideration of the item has been completed. The Council has never arrived at any general principles which can be applied consistently to determine at what point it has completed its consideration of an item. Therefore, a Council decision, either explicit or informal, has been necessary to resolve this issue on a case-by-case basis.
On 20 July 2015, the Council broke new ground by including in a resolution a provision for deleting an agenda item from the Summary Statement at a specified future time. In the preamble of resolution 2231 (2015) endorsing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) concluded with Iran, the Council expresses its desire “to bring to a satisfactory conclusion its consideration of this matter”. Then in paragraph 8 of the resolution, the Council decides that
“on the date ten years after the JCPOA Adoption Day, . . . all the provisions of this
resolution shall be terminated, and none of the previous resolutions described in
paragraph 7 (a) shall be applied, the Security Council will have concluded its consideration
of the Iranian nuclear issue, and the item “Non-proliferation” will be removed from the list
of matters of which the Council is seized (italics added)”.
The agenda item “Non-proliferation” has been on the Summary Statement since 29 March 2006, the first time the Security Council took up Iran’s nuclear programme at a formal meeting. It was in 2006 that the Council adopted resolution 1696 (2006), the first in a series of resolutions demanding that Iran suspend all nuclear enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, to be verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency. As mentioned on page 528 of the book, the Council’s consideration of Iran’s nuclear enrichment programme was seen as so sensitive that the agenda item used by the Council, “Non-proliferation”, makes no mention of the country at issue. This contrasts with the Council’s parallel agenda item concerning the DPRK, which is “Non-proliferation / Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”.
The Council’s decision in resolution 2231 (2015) to provide for the timed removal of the Iran agenda item from the Summary Statement is unique. Normally items have been removed from the Summary Statement in one of three ways:
1. By an explicit decision, effective immediately, in a resolution, a statement made by the Council President at a formal meeting, or a Note by the President;
2. By informal agreement, which is then reflected in the next Summary Statement; or
3. As the result of the deletion process set out in a series of Notes by the President, the most recent one being S/2010/507, which makes an item on the Summary Statement which has not been considered by the Council in the previous three-year period subject to automatic deletion from the list unless a UN Member State requests its retention.
The question arises as to whether the deletion of the “Non-proliferation” agenda item from the Summary Statement, after the ten-year period established in paragraph 8 of resolution 2231 (2015), would prevent the Security Council from later taking up the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme should circumstances so warrant. This question is of particular interest in light of a letter, reportedly sent on 14 July 2015 by the six States which negotiated with Iran and the European Union, informing the UN Secretary-General of their intention to extend the “snapback” mechanism (described in another article on this website) for an additional five years. This raises the possibility that a State might attempt to activate the “snapback” mechanism after the Security Council was no longer considered “seized” of the agenda item of “Non-proliferation” following its deletion from the Summary Statement.
In fact, according to Rule 9 of the Security Council’s Provisional Rules of Procedure, and the Council’s past practice, the deletion of the agenda item “Non-proliferation” from the Summary Statement will constitute no barrier to the Council taking up that item at a later date.
Pursuant to Rule 9 the Council must, as its first order of business, take a decision at the start of each meeting to adopt the agenda for that meeting. And Rule 9 places no restrictions on this decision. The adoption of the agenda is not dependent on whether or not an agenda item has been previously used by the Council, or whether it is listed on the Summary Statement. Nor is the Council obligated to use a formulation identical to that used in the past when the Council has considered the same or a related matter. Irrespective of how many times the Council has met previously on the same matter, the adoption of the agenda item for a meeting is each time a new and unrestricted decision by the Council.
The conclusion that the deletion of an agenda item from the Summary Statement creates no barrier to later convening a Council meeting under that agenda item is substantiated by a case described in the book on page 525. In 2006, owing to the fact that the Security Council had not met in a formal meeting to consider the work of its Rwanda Sanctions Committee for five years, the agenda item, “The situation concerning Rwanda”, became subject to deletion from the Summary Statement according to the practice in effect at that time. After no UN Member State requested the item’s retention, it was deleted, although the Rwanda Sanctions Committee continued to exist. Then, on 28 March 2007, the Council wished to end the requirement that the Rwandan Government notify the Sanctions Committee of its arms imports. The Council, having identified the agenda item used previously, adopted “The situation concerning Rwanda” as the agenda item for the meeting at which it adopted resolution 1749 (2007). This also meant that the agenda item was automatically restored to the Summary Statement. The following year, by its resolution 1823 (2008), the Council terminated all remaining sanctions measures relating to Rwanda, as well as the mandate of the Sanctions Committee. In 2009, on the Council’s proposal and in the absence of any objections, the agenda item was again deleted from the Summary Statement.
(This update supplements pages 224-233 in the book.)