Updated on 26 December 2017
Chapter 5: CONDUCT OF MEETINGS AND PARTICIPATION
Section 6: Motions, proposals, and suggestions
Russian Federation and Bolivia use Rule 35 to change voting order for Syria JIM drafts
On 16 November 2017, the Security Council convened to take up two draft resolutions on renewing the mandate of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) for Syria. For one draft (document S/2017/933), the Russian Federation was the penholder, and prior to the meeting, China had become a co-sponsor. The other resolution (document S/2017/962) had been drafted by the United States, and France, Italy, Japan, Sweden, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom were listed as co-sponsors. As evidenced by the sequence of the respective document symbols, the Russian draft had been “put into blue” before the American draft.
At the beginning of the Council meeting (S/PV.8105), the representative of Bolivia asked for the floor and stated, “Mi delegación desea que se incluya en las actas que apoya el proyecto de resolución S/2017/933, presentado por la Federación de Rusia y China.” The interpretation into English was: “My delegation would like to place on record its support for draft resolution S/2017/933, submitted by the Russian Federation and China.” (our italics)
Bolivia’s purpose was not immediately clear to all Council members. This was partly because most members are very familiar with the term “co-sponsor”, but less familiar with the term “to second”. When the Bolivian representative did not use the term “copatrocinar” (“to co-sponsor”), a number of those at the meeting thought that he was merely stating his political support for the Russian Federation draft. This appeared to be the understanding of the Council President (Italy), who responded by stating that “The Council has taken note of the Bolivian delegation’s support for draft resolution S/2017/933.” (our italics)
In fact, the Bolivian representative’s word choice was consistent with the Spanish version of Rule 35, which uses the verb “apoyar” in its second sentence for the English term “to second”, in connection with the decision of a mover to withdraw a draft proposal before a vote has been taken on it. Rule 35(2) reads:
“If the motion or draft resolution has been seconded [han sido apoyados], the representative on the
Security Council who has seconded [haya apoyado] it may require that it be put to the vote as his
motion or draft resolution with the same right of precedence as if the original mover had not withdrawn
it.” (translation provided from the Spanish version of the Provisional Rules of Procedure)
“To second” a motion or proposal is a term commonly used in legislatures. It indicates that another legislator, in addition to the one putting forward a motion or proposal for a vote, supports taking a vote on the matter. In that context, the “seconder” is expressing support for a fair process for the motion or proposal, but is not necessarily indicating their approval of the proposal itself. The Council’s Rule 34 explicitly states that, “It shall not be necessary for any motion or draft resolution proposed by a representative on the Security Council to be seconded before being put to a vote.” For this reason, instances of “seconding” have been extremely rare in the Council’s history, and consequently few Council members are familiar with the term, although it is used in Rules 34 and 35.
At the 16 November 2017 meeting, despite having put its text “into blue” first, the Russian Federation requested that it be voted upon after the American draft. This raised the question of the proper interpretation of the first sentence of Rule 32, which reads
“Principal motions and draft resolutions shall have precedence in the order of their submission.”
In making his request, the Russian representative noted that the Council’s practice with respect to interpreting Rule 32 had varied. In his view, the voting priority set out in that rule is a “privilege” which whoever first submitted a draft resolution “can refuse to avail oneself of.” He also challenged the assumption that “submission under Rule 32” is the same as “publication in blue”. He contended, rather, that “submission” requires both “publication in blue” and “the request for a vote”. That being the case, because the United States had been “the first to request a vote”, he stated that the American draft should be considered the first to be “submitted”, and consequently should be the first voted upon.
The practice of putting draft resolutions “into blue” arose spontaneously and is not explicitly covered in the Provisional Rules of Procedure. However, the book (page 269) explains that in practice, once the Security Council began to circulate advance draft resolutions printed in blue ink, “The request by a Council member to put a draft ‘into blue’ soon came to be considered the moment of ‘submission’” in the context of Rule 32.
The United States representative took the floor twice to respond to the Russian proposal, and each time she quoted Rule 32(1) verbatim. After her second intervention, the Russian representative asked that the Council conduct a procedural vote.
The Council President responded by first stating his understanding that pursuant to Rule 32, the Russian draft should be voted upon first. But then, citing the Russian request, he put the matter to a procedural vote. Bolivia, China and the Russian Federation voted in favour of taking up the American draft first. Seven Council members – France, Italy, Japan, Sweden, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States – voted against. Egypt, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Senegal, and Uruguay abstained. Thus the procedural motion, having received insufficient votes, did not carry.
The Russian representative then announced that pursuant to Rule 35, “the sponsors of the draft resolution contained in document S/2017/933 wish to withdraw it.” Rule 35(1) provides that
“A motion or draft resolution can at any time be withdrawn so long as no vote has been taken with
respect to it.”
With the Russian draft no longer before the Council, the President proceeded to conduct a vote on the American draft. It received eleven votes in favour, and was voted against by Bolivia and the Russian Federation. China and Egypt abstained. Owing to the Russian veto, the resolution was not adopted.
In their statements following the vote, most representatives focused on issues relating to the use of chemical weapons in Syria and an evaluation of the JIM’s work in this connection. However, several speakers addressed the negotiating process for the two drafts. The United States representative charged that the Russian text had been an attempt “to create a distraction” from the Syrian Government’s use of chemical weapons. She also called it
“a shame that we found out today [that the Russian Federation] planned to veto [the American draft]
the entire time. We revised our draft resolution three times to incorporate Russia’s concerns and those
of all Council members. At the same time, Russia refused to hold a single consultation on its own draft,
while we held many consultations.”
In response, the Russian representative disputed the charge that his delegation had not engaged in consultations, claiming rather that “our experts did indeed communicate whenever they were reached out to.”
A number of Council members (including Ethiopia, France, Italy, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom) expressed appreciation that the United States, as penholder, had shown flexibility and made maximum efforts to create a balanced text which accommodated various suggestions from others. In contrast, however, the representative of Egypt stated that while his delegation had sought to include in any draft resolution on the renewal of the JIM mandate certain “bases and principles”, its proposals were not received “very positively or realistically”. The Russian representative contended that “there was nothing balanced” about the American draft, and added that the changes made to the text “were merely cosmetic and did not deal with a single one of the flaws” of the JIM. The Chinese representative affirmed that while the American draft “contained some positive provisions”, China had abstained because “with regard to specific measures to improve the working methods [of the JIM], the draft did not fully address the legitimate concerns of some Council members.”
Speaking after the vote on the American draft, the representative of Bolivia recalled his statement at the outset of the meeting that his delegation had “seconded” (“ha apoyado”) the Russian draft resolution S/2017/933. Invoking Rule 35, he then requested that the President put that draft resolution to a vote. To recall, Rule 35(2) provides that after an original mover has withdrawn its motion or draft resolution,
“If the motion or draft resolution has been seconded, the representative on the Security Council who has seconded it may require that it be put to the vote as his motion or draft resolution with the same right of precedence as if the original mover had not withdrawn it.
At this point in the meeting, it became clear that Bolivia’s earlier secondment of the Russian text was part of a fallback plan, which the two Council members had prepared in case the Russian proposal for reversing the voting order of the two drafts failed to gain sufficient support.
After all Council members who wished to speak after the vote on the American draft had done so, the Council President suspended the meeting “in order to prepare the documents for the resumed meeting”. When the Council reconvened, the Russian draft resolution, now bearing only the name of Bolivia as its sponsor, was circulated under a new document symbol, S/2017/968.
The American representative castigated Bolivia for showing “a complete lack of respect for the Council”, and a lack of transparency, by “playing a game” so as to have the vote on the Russian draft after the vote on the American text, despite the earlier procedural vote which had supported the opposite voting order. In response, the Bolivian representative stated that “Bolivia will not apologize for using the provisional rules of procedure of the Security Council”. Rejecting the claim that his actions lacked transparency, the representative added that when he had “seconded” the Russian draft at the outset of the meeting,
“it became clear that we were going to have to have recourse to the provisional rules of procedure.
In doing so, a delegation that enjoys the same rights as every other delegation cannot be accused of
exhibiting a lack of transparency or of not showing respect for the other members of the Security Council.”
The Russian representative supported Bolivia in rejecting the American charges.
When the second draft resolution was put to a vote, it failed to garner the minimum votes necessary for adoption, and so the negative votes by France, the United Kingdom and the United States did not count as vetoes. Also voting against the draft were Italy, Sweden, Ukraine, and Uruguay. Voting in favour were Bolivia, China, Kazakhstan, and the Russian Federation. Egypt, Ethiopia, Japan, and Senegal abstained.
Because the controversial use of Rule 35 by the Russian Federation and Bolivia risked further alienating other Council members, the question arises as to what gain the Russian Federation hoped to achieve by reversing the order of voting. One Council delegate has suggested that the Russian delegation may have reasoned that after it vetoed the American draft, additional Council members might see the alternative Russian text as the only way forward for renewing the JIM mandate, and consequently might be more inclined to vote in favour of it after the American draft had failed. However, that turned out not to be the case.
It is clear that the wording of Rule 35(1) fully entitled the Russian Federation to withdraw its draft, and that Rule 35(2) similarly entitled Bolivia subsequently to resubmit the same draft. However, the use of the two parts of Rule 35 by the two delegations to circumvent an interpretation of Rule 32 which had been supported by a procedural vote was unprecedented, and arguably exacerbated the already high level of acrimony among Council members on the substance of the draft resolutions before them.
(This update supplements pages 267-272 and 360 of the book.)
 As described in the book (page 269), “beginning in the 1960s, the Security Council, like the General Assembly and ECOSOC, began circulating advance draft resolutions printed in blue ink, known as ‘blue draft resolutions’. . . . A Council member’s decision to request that its draft resolution be ‘put into blue’ is understood to signify that the draft is ready to be put to a vote, either because it has garnered sufﬁcient support or because no further progress through negotiations is anticipated.
 On page 267, the book gives the history of how the Council came to add references to “seconding” a motion or draft resolution to its Provisional Rules of Procedure.