Updated on DATE
Chapter 4: THE COUNCIL CONVENES
Section 3: Agenda and Summary statement of matters of which the Security Council is seized
How the Security Council uses the “umbrella” agenda item “Peace and security in Africa”
Over its history, the Security Council has developed several so-called “umbrella” agenda items. These are items, formulated in a very general way, which allow the Council – when it deems advisable – to take up a matter at a formal meeting without adopting a specific, targeted agenda item.
Presidential note S/2017/507, paragraph 12, recalls “the desirability, whenever possible, of using descriptive formulations of agenda items at the time of their initial adoption”. However, “umbrella” agenda items, if not overused, have advantages in certain situations.
This can be the case when a matter is simply too sensitive for all Council members to be able to agree on a fully transparent agenda item. In particular, some Council members may resist an agenda item which names a specific country. And the country itself may lobby the Council to avoid being so named. There are practical reasons for this. Especially when the Council’s concern centres around an internal situation, there can be a stigma to being publicly identified as a country which is deemed to merit the Council’s consideration under its Charter-based mandate for the maintenance of international peace and security. Such a designation can potentially deter investment in the country and diminish economically important tourism. And for many countries, there is a fear that consideration by the Council could ultimately lead to the imposition of sanctions, or even possible military enforcement authorization.
An ”umbrella” agenda item may also seem the best course when it is not yet clear how engaged the Council will become concerning a matter which it is taking up for the first time. In addition, the Council may use an “umbrella” item when it is felt at the outset that the item is not likely to receive repeated or long-term attention. This avoids cluttering the Summary statement of matters of which the Security Council is seized with items which have been taken up recently but, in all likelihood, on a one-time basis.
The most frequently used “umbrella” item is “Maintenance of international peace and security”, which the Council began employing in 2007 in connection with certain thematic topics (see related article on this website).
But ten years before that agenda item came into use, in 1997 the Security Council saw the utility of having a general “umbrella” agenda item for taking up matters relating to Africa in cases where this was seen as preferable to a distinct agenda item.
The initial formulation used was “The situation in Africa”. However, the wording “The situation in…” has otherwise been employed by the Council for agenda items relating to specific conflicts or other unstable situations. This caused an African Council member, in 2007, to complain that the agenda item “The situation in Africa” made it sound as though the entire continent was in a state of conflict.
Persuaded by this argument, the other Council members agreed to reformulate the general “umbrella” item for African matters, and thereafter to use “Peace and security in Africa”. The first meeting convened under this new agenda item was on 25 September 2007.
“The situation in Africa” and its successor, “Peace and security in Africa”, are unique in that they have been used by the Security Council almost equally to take up both country- or region-specific matters, and thematic or cross-cutting topics.
Among country- or region-specific situations, the Council used the African “umbrella” item in 2008 to meet several times on Zimbabwe. More recently, the Council has used the “umbrella” item to meet on such matters as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the Lake Chad Basin region, and Ethiopia/Tigray.
Among thematic topics taken up under the “umbrella” item for Africa have been conflict prevention and resolution, drug trafficking, and pandemics, when the Council’s focus has been on the African dimension of these cross-cutting issues. The Council has also used this item when it discusses overall cooperation with the African Union.
This Table sets out the matters taken up under the “umbrella” item for Africa since 1997. In it, the matters have been divided into two categories: 1) Country- or region-specific topics, and 2) Thematic topics. Within these two main categories, descriptions of specific issues have been provided, although it should be kept in mind that these have not necessarily been determined by the Security Council itself.
In addition, the Council has three “umbrella” agenda items for sub-regions of Africa:
“The situation in the Great Lakes region” (in use since 1996)
“Central African region” (in use since 2003)
“Peace consolidation in West Africa” (in use since 2006)
Under the item “The situation in the Great Lakes region”, the Council has most recently been considering implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the region. Under the item “Central African region”, the Council has met on such cross-border issues as the Lord’s Resistance Army and the work of the UN Regional Office for Central Africa. Under the item “Peace consolidation in West Africa”, the Council has met on cross-border issues confronting the States of the region, as well as the work of the United Nations Office for West Africa. This latter item was also used when the Council took up the situation in Guinea in 2009 and 2010.
If the Council meets more than once on a particular matter, it may continue indefinitely to use only the umbrella item in that connection. For example, from 2012 to 2022, the Council has held 25 meetings on the Sahel under “Peace and security in Africa”, and it shows no signs of changing that practice.
In some other instances, however, if Council members are becoming more deeply engaged in a certain situation, they may decide to move from the “umbrella” item to a more specific, descriptive agenda formulation. This has been the case especially when the Council decides to adopt enforcement measures under Chapter VII of the Charter.
For example, in 2011, the Council initially took up developments in Libya under “Peace and security in Africa”. But at the point it was ready to adopt resolution 1973 (2011) establishing a flight ban and authorizing “all necessary measures to enforce compliance” with that ban, the Council switched to a new agenda item, “The situation in Libya”. Similarly, in 2012, the Council initially took up Mali under “Peace and security in Africa”. But when it was ready to establish the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), it transitioned to the specific agenda item, “The situation in Mali”.
As is the Security Council’s practice generally when modifying use of agenda items, in the cases of both Libya and Mali, the Council issued a Note by the President establishing the new agenda item and stating that the Council’s prior consideration of the matter would be “subsumed” under the new agenda item.
As noted above, “umbrella” agenda items are advantageous when a matter is too sensitive for all Council members to agree on a specific agenda item, or when it is not yet clear how engaged the Council will be concerning a matter which it is taking up for the first time, or when it is even expected that consideration of a topic will be a one-time occurrence.
On the other hand, the use of “umbrella” items obscures the specific topic, and this makes research more difficult. This may even mean that with the passage of time, present Council members may be unaware of meetings held by their predecessors on specific topics.
As shown in this Chart, during the fifteen years from 2007 to 2021, the Security Council has held 84 meetings under the “umbrella” item “Peace and security in Africa”.
This high frequency indicates that despite any drawbacks, Council members have often seen benefits to employing this agenda item, and are likely to continue doing so whenever there appear to be valid reasons for not using a more specific formulation.
(This update supplements pages 217-219 of the book.)
 As, for example, “The situation in the Central African Republic”, “The situation in Mali” or “The situation in Somalia”.
 S/2011/141 of 16 March 2011 and S/2012/961 of 20 December 2012, respectively.