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Updated on 8 August 2023

Chapter 6:   VOTING

Section 3:   Procedural matters and the "double veto"

 

Patterns of Security Council procedural votes since 2000

 

Since the start of this millennium, 23 procedural votes have taken place at formal Security Council meetings, and there are signs that this may be an increasing trend: Since 2014, there has been at least one procedural vote per year except in 2021, with a high of four occurring in 2018. Five procedural votes took place in the first decade, and twelve in the second decade. Six have occurred so far since 2020.

 

Procedural votes have their basis in the Council’s Provisional Rules of Procedure, which apply only to formal meetings. For this reason, no procedural votes take place at any of the Council’s informal meeting formats, such as closed consultations, informal interactive dialogues, or the video-teleconferences the Council held during the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

As is known, pursuant to Article 27(2) of the UN Charter, a minimum number of nine votes is required for procedural motions to carry, and the veto does not apply.

 

The majority of the procedural votes occurring since 2000 – twelve – have been with respect to adopting the agenda. In the Council’s history, such votes have occurred infrequently over the actual wording of a proposed agenda item. Rather, the fact that, under Rule 9, adopting the agenda is the first order of business for an official meeting also makes this step the “chokepoint” for any Council member which seeks to block a proposed meeting from going forward, for any reason whatsoever.

 

Eight of these cases of procedural votes relating to the adoption of the agenda have in fact reflected objections to the specific subject matter of the proposed meeting: 

 

1) The issue of human settlements in Zimbabwe[1] (2005)

The case of this meeting, called for by the United Kingdom, is covered in the book (page 220). After objection by the Russian and Chinese representatives to the meeting taking place, a procedural vote on adopting the agenda was held. The meeting went forward after nine Council members voted in favour, with five against, and one member abstaining (S/PV.5237). 

 

2) The situation in Myanmar (2006)

The case of this meeting, called for by the United States, is covered in the book (pages 221-222). After objection by China and Qatar to the meeting taking place, a procedural vote on adopting the agenda was held. The meeting went forward after ten members voted in favour, with four against, and one member abstaining (S/PV.5526). 

 

The human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea[2] (2014, 2015, 2016, 2017

These four meetings, detailed individually in related articles on this website, are as follows:

 

3) In 2014, ten Council members called for the first such meeting. After objection by China, a procedural vote on adopting the agenda was held. The meeting went forward after eleven members voted in favour, with two against, and two members abstaining (S/PV.7353).

 

4) In 2015, nine Security Council members requested that the Council hold a second formal meeting on this matter. After objection by China, a procedural vote on adopting the agenda was held. The meeting went forward after nine members voted in favour, with four against, and two members abstaining (S/PV.7575).

 

5) In 2016, nine Security Council members requested that the Council hold a third formal meeting on this matter. After objection by China and Angola, a procedural vote on adopting the agenda was held. The meeting went forward after nine members voted in favour, with five against, and one member abstaining (S/PV.7830).

 

6) In 2017, nine Security Council members requested that the Council meet again on this matter. After objection by China, a procedural vote on adopting the agenda was held. The meeting went forward after ten members voted in favour, with three against, and two abstaining (S/PV. 8130). Since 2017, no Council member has requested holding a formal meeting on this matter.

 

7) The human rights situation in Venezuela (2019)[3]:

The Russian Federation objected to holding this meeting, called for by the United States. The meeting went forward after a procedural vote on adopting the agenda, in which nine members voted in favour, with four against, and two abstaining (S/PV.8452).

 

8) Ukraine (2022):

On 31 January 2022, the Council President (Norway), at the request of the United States, convened a meeting to consider the build-up of Russian troops at the Ukraine border under the provisional agenda item, “Threats to international peace and security”.[4]

 

Once the meeting began, the Russian representative immediately requested a procedural vote on adopting the agenda. He argued that the Security Council was essentially being asked to convene a meeting “based on speculations and unfounded accusations that the Russian Federation has often and consistently refuted”. He further objected that “the open format for discussion proposed by the United States on this extremely provocative topic makes this meeting a classic example of megaphone diplomacy aimed at the public.” Accordingly, he urged his fellow Council members to “prevent the use of the forum of the Security Council to promote the propagandist beliefs of our colleagues.”

 

In response, the representative of the United States noted that over recent weeks, her government had held more than 100 private meetings both with Russian officials and with Ukrainian and European colleagues. Now, she stated, it was “time to have this discussion in a public forum.” She considered the request to convene the meeting valid because it was about honouring the UN Charter and about “the peace and security of one of our Member States.”

 

The meeting (S/PV.8960) went forward after the procedural vote, the results of which were as follows:

Ten members voting in favour: Albania, Brazil, France, Ghana, Ireland, Mexico, Norway, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States

Two members voting against: China, Russian Federation

Three members abstaining: Gabon, India, Kenya

 

 

In addition to the above eight cases of procedural votes on adopting the agenda stemming from objection to the specific subject matter of a proposed meeting, another procedural vote on adopting the agenda occurred because some Council members objected, not to holding the meeting on the requested topic, but to the requested timing:

 

9) Proposal to meet on a Ukraine language law on same day as inauguration of new Ukrainian President (2019):

As detailed in a related article on this website, the Russian Federation submitted to the Security Council President a letter formally requesting, pursuant to Rule 2, a meeting of the Council at a specific day and time. When the Council President (Indonesia) convened the meeting on the day and time requested, objection to the timing was voiced by France, Germany, the United States, and Poland. The meeting then failed to go forward after a procedural vote on adopting the agenda fell short of the necessary support, with only five members voting in favour, with six voting against and four abstaining (S/PV.8529).

 

 

An additional procedural vote on adopting the agenda was because of objection to the wording of the agenda item:

 

10) Proposed meeting on the sub-item “Violation of the borders of the Russian Federation”[5] (2018):

This meeting, relating to Ukraine, is detailed in another article on this website. The agenda proposed for the meeting, as requested by the Russian Federation, was the general or “umbrella item “Maintenance of international peace and security”, followed by the sub-item “Violation of the borders of the Russian Federation”. Upon the opening of the meeting, objection to the proposed agenda was made by the United States, also on behalf of the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Consequently, a procedural vote on adopting the agenda was conducted. As a result, the meeting failed to go forward, since only four members voted in favour, while seven voted against and four abstained (S/PV.8409). Immediately thereafter, a new meeting was convened on the intended topic but under a different agenda item, “Letter dated 28 February 2014 from the Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations addressed to the President of the Security Council (S/2014/136)”. At that time, this was one of the Council’s two established agenda items relating to Ukraine, and its use did not provoke a procedural vote (S/PV.8410).

 

 

In two cases, procedural votes on adopting the agenda occurred because some Council members objected to proposed invitations to a specific briefer. It might be thought that such an objection should rather have been made at the point during the meeting when the Security Council President would propose extending such an invitation under Rule 39. However, in the two cases at issue, each meeting had been proposed solely to hear one individual briefer. Therefore, the objection in each case was made at the outset, over adopting the agenda, since there would be no point to the meeting going forward if sufficient support were lacking to invite the only intended briefer: 

 

11) Proposed briefing on Syria by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (2018):

As detailed in a related article on this website, this meeting was requested by seven Council members, but met with an immediate objection by the Russian Federation and China. In the procedural vote which followed, adopting the agenda failed to garner sufficient support, with only eight members voting in favour, while four voted against and three abstained (S/PV.8209). Immediately thereafter, the High Commissioner gave his intended briefing in a hastily-convened “Arria-formula meeting”.

 

12) Briefing by Chair of Human Rights Council independent international fact-finding mission on Myanmar (2018):

This meeting was requested by nine Council members (S/2018/926). In an unusual step, six days before the meeting was to be convened, four members – Bolivia, China, Equatorial Guinea, and the Russian Federation – wrote a letter objecting to holding the meeting on grounds that hearing a briefing by a special mechanism on a country-specific issue of the Human Rights Council would erode the HRC’s mandate and that of the General Assembly. When the meeting opened, China and the Russian Federation elaborated upon their objections. In the resulting procedural vote on adopting the agenda, nine members voted in favour, with three voting against, and three abstaining. The meeting therefore went forward (S/PV.8381).

 

 

Eleven other procedural votes during this millennium related to matters other than adopting the agenda:

 

13) Proposal to invite a non-Council Member State to participate in a meeting pursuant to Rule 37 (2023):

On 6 July 2023, the Security Council met for its biennial consideration of resolution 2231 (2015) regarding Iran’s nuclear programme and the related Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The Russian representative requested a procedural vote on a request by the representative of Ukraine to participate in the meeting on grounds that the Council's consistent practice had been to invite only those non-Council Member States which were party to the JCPOA. The United Kingdom representative countered that as Council President for the month, she had been correct in proposing to extend the invitation because in her prior consultations with Council members, a clear majority of Council members had supported Ukraine's participation. The US representative argued that it would be unconscionable to deny Ukraine the opportunity to speak, because it was experiencing firsthand the devastating consequences of the fact that Iran and Russia were violating their obligations under resolution 2231 (2015) by the transfer of UAVs without obtaining the Council's advance approval. In the subsequent procedural vote, twelve Council members voted in favour of Ukraine's participation. China and the Russian Federation voted against, and Mozambique abstained (see related article on this website).

 

 

Six procedural votes have been held at meetings, where it was proposed that more than one individual be invited to participate in a meeting, because of objection to one individual among several. For this reason, in contrast to the two 2018 cases regarding briefers described above, objection was not raised at the start of each of these other meetings, since the purpose of each meeting was not solely to hear one individual. Instead, in the cases involving more than one briefer, the agenda was adopted without opposition. Then as the meeting proceeded, objection was voiced when the Council President reached the point of extending invitations to the one controversial individual at each meeting, leading to the following procedural votes:

 

14) Proposal to vote jointly on extending invitations to Member States and three individuals to participate in a meeting on the Balkans (2000):

In 2000, as detailed in the book (pages 250-251), controversy arose over a proposed invitation to the Foreign Minister of Yugoslavia, Vladislav Jovanović. In 1992, the General Assembly, acting on a recommendation by the Security Council, had decided that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia should apply for membership in the UN, until which time “it shall not participate” in the Assembly’s work. While this initially did not preclude Yugoslavia’s participation in Security Council meetings, such participation eventually was at issue at a Council meeting convened on 23 June 2000 under the agenda item “Briefing by Mr. Carl Bildt, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Balkans”. After adoption of the agenda, the Russian representative proposed that all the requests to participate in the meeting be voted upon as a whole. The Council President (France) put this proposal to a procedural vote and it failed to be adopted, having received only four votes in favour, with ten members voting against, and one abstaining

(S/PV.4164).

 

15) Proposed participation at a meeting on the Balkans by Mr. Jovanović (2000):

At the same 2000 meeting, after the proposal to hold one procedural vote on all requests to participate failed to carry, the Council President proceeded, according to his own proposal, to invite Council members to consider successively the requests to participate in three segments: 1) No objection was raised to extending invitations to participate to 13 non-Council Member States. 2) No objection was raised to extending invitations, pursuant to Rule 39, to Bildt, and to Javier Solana of the European Union. 3) The United States objected to Mr. Jovanović’s participation on grounds that he represented “a Government whose senior leadership has been indicted for war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law”, and that therefore allowing him to participate would “send the wrong message to the world”. The invitation failed to go forward after a procedural vote in which only four members voted in favour, with seven voting against, and four abstaining (S/PV.4164).

 

16) Proposed briefing on Ukraine, under Rule 39, by a representative of a breakaway region (2018):

As detailed in a related article on this website, at a meeting on Ukraine, the Russian Federation proposed that the Council invite Elena Kravchenko to participate as one of three briefers. Sweden, also on behalf of France, the Netherlands, Poland, the United Kingdom, and the United States, objected on grounds that to “allow the participation of a representative of an illegal separatist entity in a Council meeting would set a dangerous precedent.” In light of this objection, a procedural vote was held and the invitation was not extended after it failed to receive sufficient support, the vote being one in favour, seven opposed and seven abstaining. The meeting then proceeded to hear briefings by two other individuals who had been invited to participate in the meeting without opposition (S/PV.8386).

 

17) Briefing on Syria by former Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (2020):

At a meeting on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, after adoption of the agenda, the Council President (Russian Federation) proposed extending an invitation to brief to José Bustani, former Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Objection was immediately raised by the United Kingdom, also on behalf of Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany and the United States. China, voicing support for the invitation, then proposed a procedural vote. As detailed in a related article on this website, there was some confusion as to how the procedural vote should be worded. Once resolved, the vote went forward. Because only three Council members voted in favour, with six opposed and six abstaining, Bustani was not invited. The meeting then proceeded to hear a briefing by the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, who was invited to participate in the meeting without opposition (S/PV.8764).

18) A second proposed briefing on Ukraine, under Rule 39, by a representative of a breakaway region (2023):

As detailed in a related article on this website, at a meeting on Ukraine on 17 March 2023, the Council President (Mozambique) stated a proposal that the Council invite Daria Morozova to participate as a briefer. The United States representative immediately requested a procedural vote on the grounds that because Ms. Morozova held the title “Ombudsperson of the Donetsk People’s Republic”, to invite her to brief would risk giving legitimacy to the DPR in violation of General Assembly resolution ES-11/4. Albania’s representative expressed similar views. The Russian representative, who had requested to have Ms. Morozova brief, contended that because of her particular experience in the region, she met the requirements of Rule 39 to provide useful information to the Council. In light of the objections expressed, a procedural vote was held and the invitation was not extended after it failed to receive sufficient support, the vote being four in favour, eight opposed and three abstaining (S/PV.9286).

19) A proposed briefing on Ukraine, under Rule 39, by Archbishop Gideon of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (2023):

As detailed in a related article soon to be posted on this website, at a meeting on Ukraine on 26 July 2023, a Russian representative took the floor to complain that the Council President (United Kingdom) had taken a unilateral decision to invite only one of the two briefers proposed by the Russian delegation when it had requested the meeting on the Ukrainian government’s attacks against Orthodox Christianity in Ukraine. The President affirmed that in light of very tight timing of the Council, he had offered the Russian delegation a compromise proposal of choosing to hear from one of the two briefers. In response, the Russian representative argued that there was no established quota for the number of civil society briefers at Council meetings, and then called for a procedural vote. Thereafter, an invitation pursuant to Rule 39 to Archbishop Gideon was not extended because the proposal failed to receive sufficient support, the vote being three in favour, none opposed and twelve abstaining (S/PV.9385).

 

 

Another procedural vote relating to participation concerned the modality of participation:

 

20) Participation via VTC of Ukrainian President Zelenskyy (2022):

At a meeting held on 24 August 2022, the Council President (China) stated that he had received a letter from Ukraine requesting that President Zelenskyy be invited to address the Security Council via video-teleconference (VTC). The Russian representative then took the floor to object. He twice clarified that his objection was not to Mr. Zelenskyy’s participation in the meeting, but only to this participation being via VTC. He stated that when Mr. Zelenskyy had addressed the Council via VTC in April and June 2022, these instances had been presented as exceptions not creating a precedent. To accept a third such request could no longer be considered an exception, and would run counter to the principle that all non-Council Member States invited to participate in Council meetings during non-Covid times should do so in person. He also contended that because other non-members had been denied the right to participate via VTC, the Council could not follow a double standard. Arguing in favour of Mr. Zelenskyy’s VTC participation, the representative of Albania stated that the justification for the Ukrainian President’s VTC participation remained the same as before, i.e., that the Council could not reasonably demand that he leave his country while it was under foreign invasion, a circumstance beyond his control. In the procedural vote that followed, thirteen Council members voted in favour of allowing VTC participation, with the Russian Federation voting against, and China abstaining (S/PV.9115). (See related article on this website to be posted shortly.)

Two procedural votes during this millennium have been on proposals to adjourn:

 

21) Procedural vote on adjournment proposed by Council President with respect to Lockerbie case (2003):

In this unusual case, it had been known in advance that the Council was planning to meet on 9 September 2003 to consider lifting sanctions imposed on Libya for non-cooperation with the investigations into the destruction of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, and France’s Union de transports aériens (UTA) flight 772 over Niger in 1989. Because friends and families of the victims had come to the UN to attend the meeting, it was opened as scheduled. However, the Council President (United Kingdom) stated that as the Council was finally moving towards resolution of “this terrible affair”, it was also conscious of the fact that it needed to act unanimously, and that there were other concerns related to Libya that still needed to be resolved. He reported that accordingly, in lengthy consultations earlier that day, the Council members had concluded that the most appropriate course of action would be to propose adjournment of the meeting until 10:30 a.m., 12 September. Pursuant to Rule 33(3), he then put the proposal to adjourn to that date and time to a vote and it was approved unanimously (S/PV.4820). By the time the Council convened, as decided, on 12 September, the Council had reached agreement to vote on a resolution lifting the sanctions, which was then adopted (S/PV.4821).

 

22) Motion to adjourn a meeting scheduled to vote on extending the mandate of the Syria chemical weapons Joint Investigative Mechanism (2017):

On 24 October 2017, a meeting was convened under the Council presidency of France to vote on a draft resolution to extend the mandate of the Syria chemical weapons Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), which was due to expire on 17 November. The Russian representative did not object at the time of adopting the agenda. But after a group of non-Council Member States were invited to participate in the meeting pursuant to Rule 37, he cited Rule 33(3) and proposed adjourning the meeting until 7 November. He contended that the attempt to adopt a draft resolution “ahead of time” was done not “out of good intentions”, but instead was “intended to embarrass Russia once again”. By waiting until 7 November, he asserted, the Council could take a decision on extending the mandate “in a calm atmosphere, without any of the unprecedented pressure to which we have been subject.” In support of the Russian position, the representative of Bolivia “deplored” the fact that the draft resolution was being presented in the full knowledge that it would be vetoed and opposed “and deliberately without providing the time necessary” to reach consensus and unity.

 

The United States representative countered that the JIM needed to be renewed as soon as possible “to keep its important work on track, without interruption.” The United Kingdom representative stated that “the best way to avoid politicizing such an important issue is to go ahead with the vote on the mandate renewal today, as planned.”

 

The Russian proposal to adjourn was then put to a procedural vote. It failed to be approved owing to insufficient support, with only four members voting in favour, eight voting against, and three abstaining. The draft resolution was then put to a vote and vetoed by the Russian Federation (S/PV.8073).

 

 

And finally, a procedural vote occurred in 2017 on the order of voting on two competing draft resolutions:

 

23) Renewing the mandate of the Syria chemical weapons Joint Investigative Mechanism (2017):

As detailed in a related article on this website, the Russian Federation proposed that its draft resolution, which had been submitted first, be voted upon after the vote on a parallel United States resolution, which had been submitted second. This, in effect, was a proposal for the Council to agree to a one-time suspension of Rule 32, which provides that draft resolutions “shall have precedence in the order of their submission.” The United States objected on grounds that Rule 32 should be adhered to. In the procedural vote that followed, the Russian proposal failed to be adopted, having received insufficient support: three members voted in favour, while seven voted against and five abstained.[6] (S/PV.8105)

 

 

Concluding reflections

 

Any overall assessment of these 23 cases of procedural votes during this millennium must be cautious, owing to the differing fact situations and scenarios involved in each.

 

In general, however, these cases indicate a growing inclination among some Council members to resort more frequently to procedural votes as a means of stating, clearly and publicly, their opposition to proposed procedural steps. This has been the case even when those opposed to a certain action are aware that their position will not prevail in a procedural vote. Although there is always the possibility of a surprise, in each of these cases except the proposed 2018 invitation to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the outcome of these procedural votes was essentially predictable in advance.

 

In recent years, it has become commonplace to consider that disagreement over the Council’s procedure and working methods predominantly is a matter of permanent members versus elected members. And this does appear to be true with regard to such controversial working method issues as greater participation by elected members in the process of appointing Chairs of the Council's subsidiary organs, or more equal burden-sharing of chairing responsibilities by the permanent members. However, voting patterns with respect to procedural votes show a radically different dynamic:

Not one of the 23 procedural votes during this millennium has shown alignment of all five permanent members, as a bloc, against the elected members. Rather, all of these votes, except for the unanimous 2003 case, have opposed one or more P5 against other P5. The E10 have usually been similarly divided, generally voting on both sides of a procedural vote, or abstaining.

 

In addition, all but one of the proposals which have led to procedural votes during this reporting period have been generated by permanent members. The only procedural case initiated by an elected member occurred when Australia, together with nine other members, called for the 2014 meeting on the human rights situation in the DPRK. Moreover, opposition to proposals put to a procedural vote has been voiced primarily by other permanent members, and only rarely by elected members.

 

The increase in procedural votes has not been occurring as an isolated phenomenon. In parallel, substantive decisions by the Council have also become more contested. As detailed in another article on this website, during this millennium, and particularly since 2010, there has been a significant rise in vetoes, resolutions failing adoption owing to insufficient votes, and competing draft resolutions. These voting patterns suggest that some Council members at present do not shy away from publicly exposing the sharp divisions within the Council over the most controversial issues on its agenda. On the contrary, some seem to seek actively to emphasize those divisions publicly through a vote, even when it is known beforehand that they will be in the minority. This suggests that despite there being weak support within the Council on certain issues, such members nonetheless see merit in highlighting their positions through a recorded voting process.  

(This update supplements pages 220-222 of the book.)

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[1] The official agenda item was “Letters dated 26 July 2005 from the Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the United Nations addressed to the President of the Security Council (S/2005/485 and S/2005/489)”.

[2] The official agenda item has been “The situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”.

[3] The official agenda item is “The situation in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela”.

[4] This was instead of the formulation “Letter dated 28 February 2014 from the Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations addressed to the President of the Security Council (S/2014/136)”, the agenda item then customarily in use when Council members other than the Russian Federation requested a meeting on Ukraine. This meeting marked the first time that a country-specific situation was raised under the agenda item, "Threats to international peace and security". 

[5] The Russian Federation proposed that this sub-item be taken up under the main or “umbrella” item, “Maintenance of international peace and security”.

[6] After the vote on Rule 32, the Russian representative withdrew his draft pursuant to Rule 35. When the United States draft was then put to a vote, it failed to be adopted owing to a Russian veto. Thereafter, the Russian text was resubmitted by a co-sponsor, Bolivia, in accordance with Rule 35. In the subsequent vote, the draft failed to be adopted owing to insufficient votes.

 

 

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