1 March 2023
Chapter 4: THE COUNCIL CONVENES
Section 3: Agenda and Summary statement of matters of which the Security Council is seized
For 2023, the Security Council completes its annual review of its agenda items
On 6 March 2023, an update will be published of the Summary statement of matters of which the Security Council is seized which will indicate the results of the Council’s annual review of this important list of its agenda items (S/2023/10/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.
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, an Arria-formula meeting, 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 2023 (S/2023/10) listed 18 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 the usual two-month period in which to send written requests for the retention of those items.
Almost immediately, the question of whether one agenda item would be deleted was resolved. “The promotion and strengthening of the rule of law in the maintenance of international peace and security” was automatically restored to the “active” list as of 12 January 2023, when the Council presidency of Japan convened an open debate on the “The rule of law among nations” under this agenda item. Interestingly, this was not the first time that the Rule of law agenda item – which the Council first took up in 2003 – made the loop from active to inactive and then back to active again. The item was on the inactive list from 2015 through 2018 until the Council presidency of Poland convened a formal meeting in 2019, which restored it to the active list.
As evidence of the importance which interested Member States give to the older agenda items, letters requesting the retention of 13 of them were received (from Cuba, Georgia, Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, Tunisia and United Arab Emirates, respectively) by 10 January 2023, 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 2024 review process.
An additional request to retain an agenda item subject to deletion was submitted on 7 February 2023. The United Kingdom requested retention of the agenda item, “Letter dated 13 March 2018 from the Chargé d’affaires a.i. of the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the United Nations addressed to the President of the Security Council (S/2018/218)”. The agenda item, which relates to the poisonings in 2018 in Salisbury of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, has not been considered by the Council during a formal meeting since 2018.
The most dramatic retention request submitted was with respect to “The situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”, the agenda item used by the Council since 2014 to take up the human rights situation in that country. Submitted by Albania and the United States, the penholders on the human rights situation in the DPRK, the 28 February 2023 request was signed by 61 Member States in total. 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 that agenda item. The human rights situation in the DPRK 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). Since 2018, the Council has continued to take up the matter annually, but in the format of closed consultations, which do not impact the Summary Statement.
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 during the prior three years:
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 latter 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 2023, no UN Member State wrote to request retention of the following two agenda items, which consequently have been deleted:
The situation in Burundi
The Security Council first took up the situation in Burundi in 1993, when it issued a presidential statement (S/26631) expressing its condemnation of the military coup against the democratically elected Government of Burundi. Ethnic massacres followed. The 1994 plane crash which killed Burundi President Ntaryamira, as well as Rwanda’s president, threw the country into further upheaval. The Council maintained there a peacekeeping force, the United Nations Operation in Burundi (ONUB), from 2004 through 2006. In addition, its engagement is evidenced by the 23 resolutions and 38 presidential statements it adopted on Burundi.
Moreover, the Council developed a strong link with the Peacebuilding Commission over Burundi. In 2007, at that country’s request, the Security Council President wrote to the PBC asking that Burundi be placed on the Commission’s agenda. Thereafter, the Chair of the PBC country configuration on Burundi participated in many of the Council’s meetings and interactive dialogues, and submitted reports on his travels to the region.
Because Burundi went through periodic cycles of resurgent violence, in recent years Council members differed over the degree to which the Council should remain engaged with the situation in the country. Then, following what the Security Council termed “broadly peaceful elections which marked a new phase for Burundi” in 2020, the Council adopted S/PRST/2020/12. While recognizing the gains made, the Council stressed that there was “important work ahead to advance national reconciliation” and other matters such as “preservation of democratic space.” Nonetheless, whereas before for many years the Council, at its request, received quarterly reports from the Secretary-General, the PRST requested the Secretary-General to cease his periodic reporting on Burundi and stated that the Council instead looked forward to “the Secretary-General covering Burundi as part of his regular reporting on the Great Lakes region and Central Africa.” Thus, interested Council member can continue to maintain a focus on Burundi in this context even though the specific agenda item is no longer on the Summary Statement.
The situation in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
This was the second agenda item for which no request to retain was received and which therefore has been deleted from the Summary Statement. The matter was first brought to the Security Council on 26 January 2019 in person by then United States Secretary of State Pompeo, who stated that oppression by the Venezuelan regime had forced millions of Venezuelans to flee the country to gain basic access to food and water, which was overwhelming the regional countries’ capacity to address these urgent humanitarian needs. He added, “And yet, despite this tragedy and despite the calls from regional bodies for it to be given more attention, the United Nations has yet to hold a formal meeting on this subject.” After objection was raised by the Russian Federation, the meeting went ahead on the basis of a procedural vote of nine votes in favour (Belgium, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Kuwait, Peru, Poland, United Kingdom, United States); four voting against (China, Equatorial Guinea, Russian Federation, South Africa); and two abstaining (Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia).
Since that meeting, the Council held only one further formal meeting, on 10 April 2019, which went ahead without a procedural vote.
It will be recalled that any agenda item deleted from the Summary Statement can be restored to it simply by the Security Council convening a new formal meeting on that matter, in which case the restoration will be automatic.
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 2023 Summary Statement now comprises 66 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).
 This agenda is distinct from another agenda item, “Non-proliferation/Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”, which relates to that country’s nuclear weapons programme.
 The 61 Member States making the request were Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Palau, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Türkiye, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States and Uruguay. The prior year, 31 Member States made the joint request, and 24 did so in 2021.