Updated on 25 October 2017
Chapter 5: CONDUCT OF MEETINGS AND PARTICIPATION
Section 11: Precedence motions
Russian effort to postpone voting on Joint Investigative Mechanism for Syria fails in procedural vote
On 24 October 2017, the Security Council met to vote on a resolution (S/2017/884), drafted by the United States,* by which the Council would extend for one year the mandate of the OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) tasked with identifying those responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
At the outset of the meeting, the Russian representative proposed that the meeting be adjourned until 7 November, by which time the Council would have received the JIM report on responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in Um Housh and Khan Shaykhun. The Russian representative, in this connection, invoked Rule 33(3) of the Council’s Provisional Rules of Procedure, which reads:
“The following motions shall have precedence in the order named over all principal motions and draft resolutions relative to the subject before the meeting: . . . 3) To adjourn the meeting to a certain day
or hour . . .”
Had the Russian Federation requested adjournment of the meeting without specifying a new date, no statements either for or against the proposal would have been possible under Rule 33, the last sentence of which reads, “Any motion for the suspension or for the simple adjournment of the meeting shall be decided without debate.” The Russian representative indicated an awareness of this aspect of Rule 33 when he stated that “in accordance with the existing rules of the Security Council, I would like to explain why we are tabling this motion.”
In his statement, the Russian representative explained that his delegation wanted to wait until the Council had had the opportunity to discuss the JIM’s report on Um Housh and Khan Shaykhun, which was due only two days later, on 26 October. It was his view that the Council should first discuss the report, and then vote on renewing the Mechanism’s mandate. He noted that because the Mechanism’s mandate would not expire until 17 November, “today’s decision will in no way have an impact on the future of the JIM”, which would “continue to operate independently of which decision we take today, even we don’t take any decision on extending it” that day. The draft resolution, he charged, was being put to a vote prematurely for the purpose to “show up and dishonor Russia.”
Following the Russian statement supporting adjournment, the representatives of the United States and then the United Kingdom took the floor to argue against it. The American representative contended that it was necessary to renew the JIM mandate “as soon as possible, in a non-politicized way, to keep its important work on track without interruption.”
The United Kingdom representative criticized Russia’s procedural proposal as a “cynical attempt”, which politicized the mandate renewal issue. He countered that, “Going ahead with the meeting, and with the vote, as planned, is the way that the supporters of this draft resolution have attempted to avoid politicization.” He further recalled that the previous year, when there had been uncertainty about the future of the JIM mandate, “its staff left, its capability dwindled, and it was unable to operate for some months.” He argued that should a similar delay again occur, “the only beneficiaries” would be the users of chemical weapons in Syria “and their backers”.
The last speaker on the Russian procedural proposal was the representative of Bolivia, who supported the motion to adjourn. Noting that the meeting was taking place on United Nations Day, he pointed out the risk that the Security Council “will give a completely negative signal to the world”. Stressing the importance of the Council remaining “united and unanimous in its fight against the use of chemical weapons”, he deplored “the fact that proposals are presented with the full knowledge that they are going to be vetoed”, and “deliberately without providing the relevant time to reach consensus”.
The Council President (France) then put the proposal to adjourn to a vote. The results were as follows:
Four votes in favour (Bolivia, China, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation);
Eight votes against (France, Italy, Japan, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay);
Three abstentions (Egypt, Ethiopia, Senegal).
Having failed to receive the nine votes necessary for the adoption of a procedural proposal, the Russian motion to adjourn was not agreed by the Council, and the meeting proceeded.
At the next stage of the meeting, when the draft resolution to extend the JIM mandate was put to a vote, it was vetoed by the Russian Federation. Bolivia also voted against the draft, while China and Kazakhstan abstained. The eleven other Council members voted in favour.
In a statement made before casting his negative vote, the Russian representative underscored that his delegation was “ready to return to extending the JIM after the publication of the report and after we discuss it.” Given the Russian Federation’s insistence that the only sequencing acceptable to it will be receipt of the JIM report, its discussion in the Council, and then voting to extend the mandate, it remains to be seen how long the sponsors of the draft resolution will wait before again bringing the renewal of the Mechanism’s mandate to a vote.
The last two instances when a motion to adjourn to a certain day or hour was put to a procedural vote both occurred in 1990. In the first case, at a meeting convened on 8 December, the Soviet representative proposed an adjournment under Rule 33(3) so as to have more time for informal consultations to further amend a draft resolution on the situation of Palestinians in territory occupied by Israel, with the hope of producing a consensus text. The motion to adjourn secured nine votes in favour, four against, and two abstentions. In subsequent days, the Council convened on the matter again twice, and at each meeting, the Soviet representative again proposed adjournment under Rule 33(3), and these motions were approved by the same voting pattern as before. Finally, the Council reached consensus, and unanimously adopted resolution 681 (1990) on 20 December. (S/PV.2967, S/PV.2968, S/PV.2970 (Parts I and II))
In the second case, a request by Cuba on 22 December 1990 that a meeting on Palau’s status be deferred was interpreted by the President (Yemen) to be a proposal for adjournment under Rule 33(3). After a brief debate, the motion was defeated. (S/PV.2972)
From prior discussions among Council members, it is probable that the Russian Federation was aware that its proposal to adjourn the 24 October 2017 meeting would not acquire the necessary nine votes in support. The fact that the Russian representative proceeded nonetheless to table a motion pursuant to Rule 33(3) suggests that this initiative held a political value for his delegation. On the one hand, it may have been intended to highlight the Russian delegation’s argument that the timing of the vote was an important factor in its eventual veto of the draft resolution to extend the JIM mandate at that time. This is notwithstanding the fact that substantive considerations are also clearly at issue for the Russian Federation, as evidenced by its letter of 6 October 2017, which pointed to "fundamental" or "serious" flaws in the JIM's fact-finding mission investigation (S/2017/848). A second value of the proposal under Rule 33(3) was that it enabled the Russian Federation to demonstrate that while eleven members voted in favour of the draft resolution, the issue of the timing of the vote was relevant to seven Council members. That is because in addition to the four Council members (Bolivia, China, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation) which did not vote in favour of the draft resolution, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Senegal abstained on the proposal to adjourn the meeting, rather than voting against it.
(This update supplements pages 281-283 of the book.)
* In addition to the United States, other UN Member States co-sponsoring the draft were Albania, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, and United Kingdom.