Updated on 11 March 2019
Chapter 4: THE COUNCIL CONVENES
Section 3: Agenda and Summary Statement of matters of which the Security Council is seized
For 2019, Security Council completes annual review of its agenda items
On 4 March 2019, the Security Council issued an update to its Summary statement of matters of which the Security Council is seized which indicated the results of the Council’s annual review of this important list of its agenda items (S/2019/10/Add.9).
In recent years, the Summary Statement has become an increasingly valuable resource for the Security Council. That is because meetings on controversial new subjects have sometimes gone forward without procedural votes when an agenda item already on the list has been used, instead of attempting to create a new formulation.
For example, on 5 January 2018, the Council considered civil unrest in Iran under the existing general item entitled “The situation in the Middle East”, rather than devising a more specific agenda item (see related article on this website). On 5 September 2018, with a somewhat tenuous connection to the engagement of the Organization of American States with respect to the situation in Nicaragua, the Council met to take up that country situation under the general item “Cooperation between the United Nations and regional and subregional organizations in maintaining international peace and security”. “The situation in Nicaragua” was listed only as a sub-item, ensuring that it would not be added to the Summary Statement (S/PV.8340).
So what exactly is the Summary Statement? Rule 11 of the Council’s Provisional Rules of Procedure provides that “The Secretary-General shall communicate each week to the representatives on the Security Council a summary statement of matters of which the Security Council is seized and of the stage reached in their consideration.” In 1946, the Chairman of the Council’s Committee of Experts concurred that the expression “matters of which the Security Council is seized” meant “matters which have been on the agenda of previous meetings and have not been ﬁnally disposed of”. Thus the Summary Statement functions as the equivalent of the Council’s “agenda” of all the items before it.
The Council is not limited to taking up only those matters which appear on the Summary Statement, but rather can and does add new matters at any time. As reaffirmed in the comprehensive presidential note on the Council’s working methods (S/2017/507), the Council’s practice is to include any new agenda item in the Summary Statement “once it has been adopted at a formal meeting of the Security Council” pursuant to Rule 9. Since 2009, items on the Summary Statement have been presented in two categories, known informally as “active” and “inactive”.
In order to keep the list manageable and current, the Security Council follows a procedure for reviewing the list which is set out in S/2017/507, Section B. Accordingly, the first Summary Statement issued in January 2019 (S/2019/10) listed 15 agenda items which were subject to deletion because they had not been considered at a formal Council meeting during the prior three-year period. Pursuant to S/2017/507, UN Member States had a two-month period in which to send written requests for the retention of any of those items.
Within the deadline, letters were received from various UN Member States with respect to the 15 items, and consequently all will be retained on the Summary Statement for a further year. Thirteen of these older items relate to country situations which have not been considered by the Council at a formal meeting since 1949, 1958, 1961, 1965, 1971, 1973, 1985, 1988, 1990, 1991 and 2009, respectively. As noted in the book,
“Some Member States, including Pakistan, Cuba, the Sudan, and the Arab Group States, felt strongly about retaining certain older items on the Summary Statement, even if they had not been actively considered for some decades. As explained to the authors, while they accepted that the Council had no plan to take up the matters at that time, they felt that deleting the items from the Summary Statement would send the wrong signal that the matters had been satisfactorily resolved, when that was not the case.”
One other country-specific agenda item initially subject to deletion in 2019 is a unique case:
“The situation between Iraq and Kuwait” had been on the Summary Statement since 2 August 1990. The last formal meeting convened explicitly under that agenda item had been held on 27 June 2013. Thereafter, as decided that year by resolution 2107 (2013), the issues of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property stemming from Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait became the responsibility of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq. As requested by the resolution, the Secretary-General then submitted in the same timeframe both his report on the situation concerning Iraq and his report on the missing nationals and property. The practice became for the Council to consider the two reports at a single formal meeting, convened only under the agenda item “The situation in Iraq”. Because of this technicality, even though the Council continued to take up the Iraq-Kuwait issues at formal meetings, the related agenda item became subject to deletion.
In 2019, its retention was requested by Kuwait (S/2019/74). However, on 19 February 2019, before the deadline expired, the Security Council convened for the first time in six years specifically under “The situation between Iraq and Kuwait” in order to adopt presidential statement S/PRST/2019/1 which, inter alia, voiced support for “the views expressed by the Secretary-General in his reports that ascertaining the fate of missing persons and providing answers to their grieving families depend on steadfast commitment, action and the adoption of new and innovative ways to push the issue forward.” Because this meeting was specifically held under “The situation between Iraq and Kuwait”, the earliest the agenda item will again be subject to deletion will be in 2023. The significance of retaining the matter on the Council's list of agenda items was underlined by the representative of Kuwait at the close of the meeting (S/PV.8463). He affirmed that the PRST "comes as an assurance" that these humanitarian issues "are pending and remaining commitments under relevant Security Council resolutions." He added that in addition to sending messages to all parties concerned, the presidential statement specifically sent a message to families of missing nationals "that the Security Council is interested in this issue and follows up on it, as it is still on the agenda of the Council" (our emphasis).
In addition, one thematic item has been retained on the Summary Statement for a further year: “The promotion and strengthening of the rule of law in the maintenance of international peace and security”. The Council last held a formal meeting on this item on 21 February 2014, when it convened to consider a report of the Secretary-General (S/2013/341). The presidential statement adopted at that meeting (S/PRST/2014/5) did not provide for follow-up by the Council at a specified interval, nor did it request a new report. The Council did not meet on the agenda item from 2015 forward, and consequently it became subject to deletion both in 2018 and in 2019. In 2018, its retention on the Summary Statement was requested by the Netherlands. In 2019, its retention was requested by Austria, on behalf of the 50-delegation Group of Friends of the Rule of Law. Customarily, such letters merely convey the request that an item be retained, but in this case, the Group of Friends took the opportunity “to reaffirm the fundamental importance of the rule of law for the maintenance of international peace and security, as highlighted recently in Security Council resolution 2447 (2018) on police, justice and corrections, adopted on 13 December 2018.” In referencing the 13 December 2018 meeting, the letter evidently was suggesting that even though a meeting had not been convened specifically under the agenda item since 2014, the issue had remained an important element of the Council’s work.
One agenda item narrowly missed being identified as subject to deletion in 2019. An unusual situation occurred in 2014: Invoking “the deterioration of the situation in the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea, Ukraine, which threatens the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” the UN representative of that country wrote to the Security Council requesting an urgent meeting (S/2014/136). It was clear that it would be difficult to devise a transparent, descriptive agenda item acceptable to both Ukraine’s supporters on the Council and the Russian Federation, and therefore when the Council met on 28 February 2014, the Ukrainian letter was cited as the agenda item. Two months later, the Russian Federation wrote requesting an emergency meeting “to consider the alarming developments in Ukraine” (S/2014/264). The meeting was held on 13 April, and this time the Russian letter was cited as the agenda item.
Upon their respective first usages, both agenda items were added to the Summary Statement. Subsequently, the Council met with some frequency under the Ukraine letter agenda item, whereas it did not meet under the Russian Federation formulation after 17 February 2015. Therefore, as the end of 2018 approached, it appeared that the Russian agenda item might be listed as subject to deletion in 2019. With only two months to spare, on 30 October 2018, a formal meeting (S/PV.8386) was convened not only under the Ukraine agenda formulation but, at the request of the Russian Federation, also under the Russian formulation, thereby ensuring that the latter item would not become subject to deletion in 2019. Its continuing place on the Summary Statement was further secured when, on 12 February 2019, the Council held another meeting, this time exclusively under the Russian agenda item. Therefore, the earliest it might be subject to deletion will now be in 2023.
On 26 January 2019, it was proposed that for the first time the Security Council meet under a new agenda item entitled “The situation in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela”. After opposition was voiced by the Russian Federation, a procedural vote was held. The decision to proceed with the meeting carried by the minimum required nine votes. As a result, the new agenda item was automatically added to the Summary Statement.
As described in the book, in 1993 the Security Council first undertook to streamline the Summary Statement, which by that year had swelled to over 200 agenda items. After considerable evolution, under the present deletion process referenced above, the number of entries on the Summary Statement has been reduced from 207 agenda items in 1993 to 69 items in 2019.
(This update supplements pages 229-233 of the book.)