12 March 2022
Chapter 4: THE COUNCIL CONVENES
Section 3: Agenda and Summary statement of matters of which the Security Council is seized
For 2022, the Security Council completes its annual review of its agenda items
On 7 March 2022, 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/2022/10/Add.10).
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.
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 which have not been taken up by the Council at a formal meeting within the prior three years.
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 2022 (S/2022/10) listed 16 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 were given a two-month period in which to send written requests for the retention of those items.
As evidence of the importance which interested Member States give to these older agenda items, letters requesting the retention of 13 of them were received (from Cuba, Georgia, Iran, Pakistan, the Sudan, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates, respectively) by 10 January 2022, 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 13 items will remain on the Summary Statement at least until the 2023 review process.
An additional request to retain an agenda item subject to deletion was submitted on 24 February by Ireland, also on behalf of 30 other UN Member States. 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. 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 (see related article on this website).
This list shows the present “active” items on the Summary Statement, that is, items which have been taken up in at least one formal meeting over the prior three years and therefore were not subject to deletion in 2022:
This second list shows the “inactive” items which will be retained for one year, as well as the Member States requesting their retention.
As will be seen, these items 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, 2017 and 2018, respectively. As noted in the book,
“Some Member States [have] 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 2022, no UN Member State wrote to request retention of the following agenda item, which consequently has been deleted:
The situation in Liberia
This agenda item was first added to the Summary Statement in 1991. At the Council’s last meeting under this item, held on 18 April 2018, the Council adopted a Statement by the President recognizing the completion of the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) on 30 March 2018. In the statement, the Council commended “the remarkable achievements and notable progress made by the people and Government of Liberia to consolidate lasting peace and stability since 2003 and their continued commitment to respect and develop democratic processes and institutions.” The statement also stressed that “the United Nations will continue to be an important partner of Liberia after the closing of UNMIL.”
Speaking at the meeting, an Assistant Secretary-General of the (then) Department of Peacekeeping Operations stated
“It would be no exaggeration to characterize the Liberia of 2003 as a country in ruins, with a traumatized population and a predatory State. We may never know the full human cost of the more than 14 years of successive, brutal civil war, but we know that far too many citizens suffered from human rights violations, far too many families were displaced, and far too many citizens were victims of sexual violence. . . . It is important to remember the past – the untold suffering wrought on the people of Liberia, the destabilization that the country’s conflict brought to the entire region – in order to fully appreciate the long path to peace that Liberia has travelled since the Council adopted resolution 1509 (2003), authorizing the United Nations to take over peacekeeping responsibilities previously assumed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).”
In the three-year period following the withdrawal of UNMIL, the situation in Liberia remained calm, and accordingly the Council held no further formal meetings on that country. Nonetheless, as had been the Council’s practice with respect to other situations following the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers (such as Côte d’Ivoire or Nepal), the Council retained the agenda item for Liberia 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 Liberia over the duration it remained an active agenda item. The Council established two peacekeeping operations (UNOMIL, followed by UNMIL); imposed sanctions beginning with resolution 1521 (2003); established a related sanctions committee; and broke new ground in its decisions restricting conflict diamonds.
One further change has occurred with respect to the Summary Statement for 2022, which is the reinstatement on the “active” list of a previously deleted agenda item:
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 (excellent) report (S/2006/997) in 2006 and was then disbanded.
From then until 2017, the Council 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 in 2017 (under Egypt). It was evident from there having been only three meetings on this agenda item over an 11-year period that within the Council, few members had interest in holding formal meetings on this subject. This appeared to be reflected by the fact that when the agenda item became subject to deletion in 2021, no Council member, or any other Member State, wrote to request its retention, and thus it was dropped.
Then on 7 February 2022, the Russian Security Council presidency for that month convened a meeting under that agenda item, with the sub-item “Preventing their humanitarian and unintended consequences”. The holding of this meeting was sufficient to restore the agenda item to the Summary Statement. And has been the Council’s practice, it did not begin again, but rather was reinstated to its earlier order in the “active” list according to the date when the Council first met under this agenda item, 17 April 2000.
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 2022 Summary Statement now comprises 65 items.
(This update supplements pages 229-233 of the book.)
 For example, starting in 2021, the Council has held several meetings on the situation in Ethiopia/Tigray after some Council members, reluctant to formally take up the issue, agreed that rather than adopting a specific agenda item, the Council would hold the relevant meetings under the existing agenda item “Peace and security in Africa”. 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).
 The 31 Member States making the request were Albania, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, the Republic of Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States and Uruguay. The prior year, 24 Member States had made the joint request. The highest number of requests for retaining a single item was the letter submitted in 2019 by Austria (S/2019/134), on behalf of the 50-member Group of Friends of the Rule of Law, requesting retention of the item, “The promotion and strengthening of the rule of law in the maintenance of international peace and security”.
 This is distinct from another agenda item, “Non-proliferation/Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”, which relates to that country’s nuclear weapons programme.