Updated on 8 January 2017
Chapter 4: THE COUNCIL CONVENES
Section 3: Agenda and Summary statement of matters of which the Security Council is seized
Third procedural vote on DPRK human rights agenda item
In a letter to the Security Council President dated 1 December 2016 (S/2016/1034), nine Council members requested, pursuant to Rule 2 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure, that the Council convene to consider the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The letter was signed by the representatives of France, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Spain, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Uruguay.
The agenda item “The situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” relates to the human rights situation in that country, as distinct from the issue of the DPRK’s nuclear programme, which the Council has had under consideration since 2006. The Council had met on the DPRK human rights situation only twice before, on 22 December 2014 (S/PV.7353) and on 10 December 2015 (S/PV.7575). At both the 2014 and the 2015 meetings, objections to taking up the item led to a procedural vote, and in each case, sufficient votes were cast for the meeting to proceed.
After the 2014 meeting, the new agenda item was automatically added to the Summary Statement of matters of which the Security Council is seized. This was in keeping with Rule 11 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure, and also 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” (para. 52).
Nonetheless, inclusion of an item in the Summary statement – which is sometimes called “the Council’s agenda” – does not mean that Council members are thereafter obligated to agree to meet again under the same item. That is because under Rule 9, at each of its meetings the Council must, as the first order of business, adopt the agenda for that meeting. Thus at any subsequent meeting on an agenda item added to the Summary statement as the result of a procedural vote, any Council member can again object to meeting under that agenda item, necessitating another procedural vote. And this in fact is what happened in 2015 (see related article on this website).
On 9 December 2016, when the Council President (Spain) convened a meeting in response to the nine-member request, opposition to taking up the human rights situation in the DPRK had not abated. As had been the case in 2014 and 2015, before placing the agenda before the Council, the President gave the floor to those who wished to make statements. The representative of China repeated his delegation’s position that the Security Council “is not a forum for discussing human rights issues, still less for the politicization of such issues.” Rather, in his view, Council members and other parties should “do more to ease tensions on the peninsula, and avoid any rhetoric or action that could provoke or escalate tensions.” The representative of Angola affirmed his delegation’s support for the Chinese statement.
Taking a contrary position, the representative of the United States contended that there had been no improvement in the lives of people in the DPRK since the Council’s 2015 meeting. Calling the situation “inherently destabilizing”, she said, “It really belongs on our agenda here in the Security Council.” The representative of Japan similarly argued that because there had been “no tangible improvement in the human rights situation” in the DPRK since the publication of the 2014 report of the commission of inquiry (A/HRC/25/63), and given the destabilizing impact on the region and the maintenance of international peace and security of the human rights violations perpetrated by the DPRK authorities, the reasons for the Council to hold a meeting on the situation persisted.
In light of the formal request for a meeting, and the opposition expressed by China and Angola, the President then put the agenda to a vote. As was the case the previous year, the agenda received nine affirmative votes, the minimum necessary for the meeting to proceed. Voting in favour were the nine countries which had signed the letter requesting the meeting. Voting against, as had been the case in 2015, were Angola, China, the Russian Federation and Venezuela. In addition, Egypt, which was not a Council member in 2015, cast a negative vote, and Senegal abstained. After the vote, the representatives of the Russian Federation and of Venezuela explained their opposition to the meeting.
As had been the case in 2014 and 2015, after the conclusion of the procedural vote and related statements by Council members, the President briefly suspended the meeting. The meeting then resumed to hear two briefings, followed by interventions by Council members, after which the representative of the Republic of Korea, a non-member of the Council, was given the floor.
One other procedural aspect of the 9 December 2016 meeting relates to the UN Journal. The Journal for that day (No. 2016/238) contained no notice of a Council meeting on the situation in the DPRK. This is because paragraph 1 of the Note by President 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 2016 meeting thus could not be included in the Journal because the Council members had not been able to reach consensus beforehand.
(This update supplements pages 220-222 of the book.)