Updated on 18 September 2019
Chapter 5: CONDUCT OF MEETINGS AND PARTICIPATION
Section 9: Amendments
A rare oral amendment to a Security Council resolution occurs with respect to Afghanistan
Rule 31 of the Council’s Provisional Rules of Procedure provides that “Proposed resolutions, amendments and substantive motions shall normally be placed before the representatives in writing.” (our emphasis) While this has been the standard practice, the fact that Rule 31 states that this should be the case “normally” of course leaves open the possibility that amendments can be proposed orally. And in fact, the Council has allowed oral amendments from the floor since its early years.
In present practice, however, oral amendments are very rare. This is the outcome of a shift to a more systematic process for drafting and negotiating resolutions. Each text now usually goes through a thorough vetting by all Council delegations’ experts on that particular agenda item, and then one or more silence procedures, as necessary. This often-lengthy process usually provides ample time for any Council member to suggest changes to a draft under negotiation, and to know in advance whether their proposal has been incorporated into the text or not.
However, on occasion, oral amendments are still proposed in the midst of an adoption meeting. The most recent case occurred on 17 September 2019, when the Council convened to adopt a resolution extending the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
Negotiating the periodic UNAMA renewals has traditionally been difficult, owing to a number of sensitive issues. This became even more the case when, at the time of the previous renewal in March 2019, China and the United States squared off over whether or not the resolution would make explicit reference to China’s “Belt and Road” initiative, in the context of expressing support for efforts to strengthen regional cooperation (see related article on this website).
Negotiations on both the March and the September 2019 draft resolutions were led by Germany and Indonesia as co-penholders. On the September text, disagreements among Council members over a number of provisions in the draft prolonged the negotiating process. This resulted in the text being brought to a vote not, as originally scheduled, the day before the UNAMA mandate would expire, but on the day itself.
Under this time pressure, it was only after the adoption meeting had been opened by the Council President (Russian Federation) that the co-penholding German representative asked for the floor and then submitted an oral amendment. This seemed to be an unscheduled part of the meeting, since the President did not appear to have this contingency in his prepared speaking notes.
The proposed amendment was to paragraph 5(a) of the text, which states that UNAMA and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative are to “provide outreach as well as good offices to support the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process”. The German representative explained that Afghanistan had requested that this be qualified by a phrase stating, “if requested by and in close consultation with the Government of Afghanistan”.
In making this submission, the German representative apologized to his fellow Council members for doing so last-minute, but he clarified that this was because Afghanistan itself had raised it last-minute. He observed that the meaning of the added clause in fact already had been “clear” from the phrase “Afghan-led” in the original draft. Nonetheless, he expressed his support for including the new language because it had been insisted upon by the Government, for which it was “extremely important”. In this connection, he spoke of responsibility toward the country, in light of its "difficult situation".
The German representative also noted that the proposed amendment had been discussed with Indonesia as co-penholder, and also with the Chinese delegation, which had been very engaged in negotiations on the text.
Moreover, the representative clarified that the proposed phrase was agreed language which had appeared in previous UNAMA resolutions. It is likely that the phrase had been omitted from the September 2019 draft because the co-penholders had considerably streamlined the text to make it more concise and operational. Adopted as resolution 2489 (2019), it is three and a half pages in English. The previous full mandate renewal, resolution 2405 (2018), which was negotiated in 2018 under the aegis of the Netherlands as sole penholder, was eleven and a half pages.
Once the German representative had finished presenting the oral amendment, the Council President commented that it was being proposed “at the very last minute, despite the fact that we had lengthy protracted consultations on this issue with the interested delegations.” He added, however, that if there were no objections by any Council members to the oral amendment, it would be included in the text. There being none, the vote proceeded on the draft as orally amended, which was adopted unanimously.
When the representative of Afghanistan took the floor at the end of the adoption meeting, she underscored “the importance of the principle of Afghan ownership and leadership in the context of peace efforts and that all international support measures should serve to complement and reinforce our national efforts.” It would seem that the emphasis given to this point reflected, at least in part, Afghan Government concerns that it had been sidelined from prior United States-led negotiations with the Taliban.
As described in the book (pages 274-5), another, less substantive oral amendment was proposed on 11 July 2011. On that date, the Council met to adopt a resolution terminating the UN Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS) in consonance with the independence of South Sudan. Just before the vote, the Russian representative noted that the termination date given in the draft was 10 July, whereas in fact the Council was meeting on 11 July to adopt the resolution. He pointed out that this would have a “retroactive effect on the Mission”, which would not be “in line with the Council’s normal practice”. After a brief discussion, it was orally proposed to amend the draft to cite 11 July as the termination date. The Council President (Germany) stated that the Council members “can change the language ad hoc, right now, if I hear no objection”. There being none, the resolution, as orally amended, was then adopted (S/PV.6579).
In a Security Council which is often criticized for being overly “choreographed”, it is perhaps refreshing and reassuring whenever Council members respond spontaneously and consensually to address new developments, irrespective of their relative level of importance.
(This update supplements pages 274-5 of the book.)
 See “Afghanistan: Council to Vote on UNAMA Mandate”, What’s in Blue, Security Council Report, 16 September 2019.
 See related article on this website regarding a streamlining by Japan as penholder of the UNAMA mandate renewal resolution in 2017.