29 March 2021

Chapter 4:   THE COUNCIL CONVENES

Section 3:   Agenda and Summary statement of matters of which the Security Council is seized

 

For 2021, Security Council completes annual review of its agenda items

 

On 8 March 2021, an update was published of the 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/2021/10/Add.10).[1]

 

In recent years, the Summary Statement[2] 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.[3]  

 

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 in effect is 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 add new matters at any time.  As confirmed in paragraph 14 of presidential note S/2017/507, the Council’s continuing practice is to automatically include any new agenda item in the Summary Statement “once it has been adopted at a formal meeting of the Security Council”.  This paragraph makes clear that the Council cannot simply decide to add a matter to the Summary Statement.  Rather, the only way an agenda item can be listed is as the result of the Council having convened a formal meeting under that formulation.  This means that a new item will not be added if it is only taken up during closed consultations, an informal interactive dialogue, or a video-teleconference during COVID-19.

 

Since 2009, items on the Summary Statement have been presented in two categories, known as “active” and “inactive”.  The “inactive” section of the Summary Statement sets out all items on the Summary Statement which have not been taken up by the Council at a formal meeting within the prior three years.  This table shows the "active" list of items taken up by the Council in formal meetings over the same time period:

In an effort to keep the Summary Statement manageable and current, the Security Council undertakes a yearly review according to the procedure set out in S/2017/507, Section B.  Accordingly, the first Summary Statement issued in January 2021 (S/2021/10) listed 17 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 are given a two-month period in which to send written requests for the retention of any such items.  

 

As evidence of the importance which interested Member States give to these older agenda items, letters requesting the retention of thirteen of them were received (from Cuba, Georgia, Iran, Pakistan, the Sudan, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates, respectively) by 5 January 2021, even though the deadline would not be until 28 February.  It is the Council’s practice to honour such requests, renewable annually, and consequently all thirteen items will remain on the Summary Statement at least until the 2022 review process.[4] 

 

An additional request to retain an agenda item subject to deletion was submitted only two days before the deadline, on 26 February.  It was sent by Germany also on behalf of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, the Republic of Korea, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States and Uruguay.  Since the request of only a single Member State is sufficient for an agenda item to be retained, it was clear that the additional countries, by joining the request, intended to signify the importance they accord to the agenda item at issue, which was “The situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” relating to human rights there.[5]  This matter was first taken up in 2014 and the Council met annually thereafter through 2017, although opposition to holding each of these meetings meant that first a procedural vote was required.  Another article on this website describes why this issue has not been considered at a formal meeting since 2017.  

This table shows the "active" items on the Summary Statement which have been taken up in at least one meeting over the prior three years and therefore were not subject to deletion in 2021:

 

 

The table at the end of this article lists the "inactive" items subject to deletion in 2021.  As will be seen there, the  “inactive” items which will be retained for one year relate to situations which have not been considered by the Council at a formal meeting since 1949, 1958, 1961, 1965, 1971, 1973, 1985, 1988, 1990, 1991, 2009 and 2017, respectively.  As noted in the book,

 

“Some Member 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.”

 

In 2021, no UN Member State wrote to request retention of the following three agenda items, which consequently have been deleted:

 

General issues relating to sanctions

The Security Council first met under this agenda item on 17 April 2000, in conjunction with presidential note S/2000/319 of the same date by which the Council established an Informal Working Group on General Issues of Sanctions tasked with developing recommendations for improving the effectiveness of sanctions.  The Informal Working Group submitted its report (S/2006/997) in 2006 and was then disbanded.

Thereafter, the Council has held only three meetings under the agenda item “General issues relating to sanctions:  in 2014 (during the Council presidency of Australia), in 2016 (under Venezuela) and its last meeting in 2017 (under Egypt).  It is evident from there having been only three meetings on this agenda item over a ten-year period that within the Council, few members have shown interest in holding formal meetings on this subject, and this appears to be reflected by no Council member having written to request retaining the item.

 

Nonetheless, given the controversies generated by some of the Council’s decisions relating to sanctions as they impact on the wider UN membership – as well as the active engagement of countries like Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, which supported publication of the 2020 Best Practices Guide for Chairs and Members of UN Sanctions Committees – it is somewhat surprising that no non-Council Member State wrote to request retention of the item. 

In this connection, however, it is important to note that deletion of an item from the Summary Statement does not prevent the Council from holding a subsequent meeting under the same formulation.  As will be seen in a case below, all that is required is that a new meeting open with adoption of the agenda item, after which the item will automatically again be listed on the Summary Statement

The situation in Côte d’Ivoire

This agenda item was on the Summary Statement since 2002.  At the Council’s last meeting under this item, held on 30 June 2017, the Council adopted a Statement by the President recognizing the departure that same day of the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI); welcoming “the notable progress made by Côte d’Ivoire to consolidate lasting peace and stability”; and noting that the “departure of UNOCI does not mark the end” of the UN’s support for sustaining peace in the country (S/PRST/2017/8).  

 

In the three-year period following the withdrawal of UNOCI, the situation in Côte d’Ivoire remained calm, and accordingly the Council held no further formal meetings on that country.  Nonetheless, as has been the Council’s practice with respect to other situations following the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers (such as Timor-Leste, Nepal and Sierra Leone), the Council retained the agenda item for Côte d’Ivoire for the following three-year period until it reached the stage of automatic deletion, rather than deciding to delete it earlier, which it might have done under S/2017/507.  Retaining the item served to indicate that the Council would still be willing to again take up the situation should there be a deterioration on the ground.   

The Security Council engaged deeply in the situation in Côte d’Ivoire over the duration it remained an active agenda item.  The Council established two peacekeeping operations (MINUCI, followed by UNOCI); imposed sanctions under resolution 1572 (2004) and a related sanctions committee; and decided, unusually, that the Secretary-General’s Special Representative would certify the results of the 2010 presidential election.  When that certification was not respected by outgoing president Laurent Gbagbo, the Council authorized UNOCI to use “all necessary means to carry out its mandate to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence”, which ultimately led to UNOCI securing the airport, returning gunfire with Gbagbo forces, and firing on the Presidential Palace after heavy weapons installed there targeted civilians.

 

Briefing by the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator

The Council first met under this agenda item in 2007.  While the Emergency Relief Coordinator often briefs the Council at meetings convened on country-specific situations, this more general agenda item was used when the Council members wished to hear a “tour d’horizon” of humanitarian and emergency relief issues.  The agenda item was already deleted once, in 2012, when no Member State requested its retention.  But it returned to the Summary Statement in 2017, when a meeting was held during the Council presidency of the United Kingdom, four of whose nationals have served as Emergency Relief Coordinator since 2007.  However, in 2021, neither the United Kingdom nor any other UN Member State requested retention of the item.

 

As described in the book, in 1993 the Security Council first undertook to streamline the Summary Statement, which by that year had swelled to 207 agenda items.  After considerable evolution, the 2021 Summary Statement now comprises 66 items. 

 

(This update supplements pages 229-233 of the book.)                                                       

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[1] It is unclear why in 2021, the Addendum setting out the results of the annual review was delayed by one week, since according to presidential note S/2017/507, it should have been issued on 1 March rather than 8 March.  Paragraph 16 of S/2017/507 states, “The first summary statement issued in March of each year will reflect the deletion of those items” for which no request has been made to retain. 

[2]Summary Statement” is the correct short title for the document in English.  Council members have discouraged use of “Seizure Statement” or “Seizure List”, as these do not translate well into the UN’s other official languages.

[3] 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” after some Council members opposed devising a more specific agenda item (see related article on this website).  On 5 September 2018 when, similarly, some members opposed devising a specific agenda item for the human rights situation in Nicaragua, a compromise was reached to hold the meeting under the existing item “Cooperation between the United Nations and regional and subregional organizations in maintaining international peace and security”, given that the Nicaraguan situation was under consideration in the Organization of American States (S/PV.8340).

[4] See table for the specific agenda items and names of Member States requesting their retention.

[5] This is distinct from another agenda item, “Non-proliferation/Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”, which relates to that country’s nuclear weapons programme.