Updated on 31 December 2020
Chapter 4: THE COUNCIL CONVENES
Section 3: Agenda and Summary statement of matters of which the Security Council is seized
Security Council is unable to meet formally on DPRK human rights situation for 3rd year in a row
On 11 December 2020, in a Closed VTC under “Other matters”, the Security Council considered the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This discussion was requested by Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Reportedly, these seven Council members originally proposed that this agenda item be discussed in the format of an Open VTC. However, unlike the Council’s formal meetings, which go forward if supported by at least nine Council members, the Open VTCs convened by the Council during the COVID-19 pandemic require unanimity to be held. Therefore, when opposition to considering the situation in the DPRK in an Open VTC was expressed by China and the Russian Federation, only the option of a Closed VTC was possible.
This leaves open the question as to whether, had a formal meeting been possible, at least two other Council members would have joined the requestors in order to attain the minimum support of nine necessary for considering this matter. At each of the four formal meetings on this item held in the past, opposition to the meeting led to a procedural vote. Voting in support were ten members in 2017, nine in 2016 and 2015, and eleven in 2014. In 2018 and 2019, it may have been uncertain whether the minimum of nine votes could be obtained in order to override anticipated objections. For this, or perhaps for other, political reasons, no request for a formal meeting on this matter was made during those two years.
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 under the agenda item, “Non-proliferation/Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”. For the four formal meetings on the DPRK human rights situation held from 2014 to 2017, as was the case in 2020, the Council members requesting the meeting intended for it to be convened close to 10 December, which is Human Rights Day.
In 2020, those Council members proposing the holding of an Open VTC on the DPRK human rights situation wished to invite the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to brief. The High Commissioner had briefed at the last formal meeting held on this matter in 2017. (Please see the related article on this website for a summary of the arguments made both in favour and against consideration by the Security Council of the DPRK human rights situation.)
The fact that no formal meeting on the human rights situation in the DPRK has been held since 2017 raises an interesting procedural issue:
The agenda item, “The situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”, according to established practice, was automatically added to the Summary statement of matters of which the Security Council is seized upon holding of the first meeting in 2014.
The Security Council has in place a system for keeping current the “Active List” section of the Summary statement according to which “any item which has not been considered by the Council at a formal meeting during the preceding three calendar years” will be deleted, unless a request to retain it is received from a UN Member State. Since the Council has not met formally on this agenda item since 2017, this means that for the first time since it was introduced as a new item in 2014, “The situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” will be subject to deletion in 2021.
It can be assumed that one of the concerned Council members will write to the Council President requesting the retention of this item, and the Council’s established practice is to honour such requests. Nonetheless, in this event, even if retained, the agenda item will no longer appear on the “Active List” at the head of the Summary statement, but instead on the “Inactive List”.
It should be noted, however, that when an agenda item moves to the “Inactive List”, or even is deleted, this is no legal inhibition to the Security Council again taking up consideration of the matter at a formal meeting, provided there are at least nine Council members supporting such consideration.
Therefore, it remains to be seen in 2021 – assuming that by year’s end the pandemic will have eased sufficiently for the Council to again hold formal meetings – whether a proposal to meet officially on the DPRK human rights situation will have sufficient support. If so, the agenda item would then automatically return to the “Active List” of the Summary statement. And if not, it would still be possible for a UN Member State subsequently to request its retention on the “Inactive List”.
(This update supplements pages 220-222 of the book.)
 This was in keeping with Rule 11 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure and presidential note S/2017/507, para. 14 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.”
 S/2017/507, para. 15.
 Ibid., para. 16.