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Updated on 17 December 2015


Section 12:   Communications


Problematic or controversial communications sent to Council President


The book states on pages 437-438 that  “The circulation of written communications is a surprisingly complex and politically sensitive area of the Security Council’s practice.  The difficulties begin with the fact that the Security Council, like the General Assembly, does not have complete ‘ownership’ over communications issued as official documents in its name.  That is because, under Article 35 of the UN Charter, . . . ‘Any Member of the United Nations may bring any dispute, or any situation of the nature referred to in Article 34, to the attention of the Security Council or of the General Assembly.’”


A primary means by which UN Member States bring disputes or situations “to the attention of” the Security Council or the General Assembly is by written communication.  Thus, whether or not Article 35 is explicitly cited, and whether or not the Council or the Assembly are in agreement with the contents of a communication, both bodies are considered generally obligated to publish the communication of any Member State if that State so requests.


In 2015, the Security Council has had to deal with several sensitive communications:


On 4 May 2015, the representative of the Russian Federation sent a letter (S/2015/311) requesting that an attached report on “Neo-Nazism:  a dangerous challenge to human rights, democracy and the rule of law” be published as an official document of the General Assembly and the Security Council.  The report, written in Russian, was 113 pages long and included photos.  Its contents, which focused in particular on alleged activities of Neo-Nazis in the member States of the European Union (EU), raised some doubts as to its suitability for publication as an official document.  It was eventually published on 28 May 2015 bearing, in what appears to have been a compromise, a footnote reading, “The annex is being circulated in the language of submission only.”


This approach was not, however, sufficient to stave off a riposte from the European Union (EU).  By a letter dated 9 June 2015 (S/2015/457), the Head of the EU Delegation to the United Nations transmitted a “Joint Response” from the European Union, with the request that it also be published as an official document of the Assembly and Council.  In its “Joint Response”, the EU notably stated that the Russian report


“contains factual inaccuracies and selective information on the situation in the European

Union and its member States.  The report is also geographically incomplete.  A chapter on

the situation in the Russian Federation, for example, is missing.” 


In another case, on 30 September 2015, the representative of Burundi addressed a letter to the Council President to which he attached “evidence of the aggressive behaviour made by Rwanda to Burundi”, and requested its publication as an official Council document.  Presumably the attached documents were of an inflammatory nature.  After a two-week delay, on 15 October 2015 only the cover letter was published (S/2015/748), with a footnote reading “The documents are on file with the Secretariat and are available for consultation.”


Another form of restrictive circulation has been in use now for several years with respect to certain reports submitted to the Council by Chairs of country configurations of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC).  In this case, the issue is that some of the contents of the reports touch on sensitive issues.  Accordingly, a way has been devised for the Council to record officially that such reports have been submitted by the configuration Chairs, while ensuring that the contents of the reports remain confidential.  A recent example is the letter dated 30 November 2015 from the representative of Switzerland, in his capacity as Chair of the PBC Burundi configuration (S/2015/917).  By that letter, the representative transmitted a report summarizing the conversations and meetings he held during his first visit to Burundi, Uganda and Tanzania earlier in the month, as well as his conclusions.  The cover letter was published with a footnote reading, “The report was made available to the members of the Security Council only.”


The book states on page 440 that “In recent years, the Council has been faced with a plethora of non-State entities which have sought to transmit communications to it.”  The book adds that


“There has been consensus among the Council members that communications from . . .

non-State entities, if sent directly to the Council President, should not be issued as official

Council documents, to avoid conveying unintended legitimacy. The only option for a

non-State entity to achieve publication of a communication is to have a UN Member State

transmit the communication under its own cover letter.”


In 2015, 28 letters from the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces have been forwarded to the Council President, for publication, by a number of UN Member States, including Denmark, France, Germany, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Kingdom.  In two instances, such letters received a rebuke from the representative of Iran.  On 24 September 2015, that representative, using identical language, sent two letters criticizing the representatives of France (S/2015/751) and of the United Kingdom (S/2015/740) for having requested circulation of a letter from “an entity engaged in crimes and violence in Syria”.  The Iranian representative contended that “The very act of submitting such baseless propaganda against a Member State by another Member State to be circulated as a document of the United Nations runs counter to the very purposes and principles of the United Nations”.  He added that this act “amounts to misusing an established practice at the United Nations and employing it in the service of spreading lies and distorting facts”.  (This update supplements pages 437 to 443 in the book.)




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