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Updated on 30 January 2020


Section 5:   Fact-finding and other missions by Council members to the field


2019 presidential note expands political guidance for Council missions to the field, and undertakes to be more inclusive


On 27 December 2019, after two years of negotiations in the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions (IWG), under the chairmanship of Kuwait, the Security Council adopted presidential note S/2019/990 on the subject of its missions to the field.


This note adds four paragraphs to the five paragraphs on Security Council missions set out in the most recent comprehensive presidential note on working methods, S/2017/507.


One focus of the new note is on greater inclusivity with respect to such missions.  In particular, its paragraph (b) stresses “the importance of effective communication and engagement with the host country, particularly during the early stages of planning a Council visiting mission”.  This provision stemmed from complaints by some host countries that the specifics of Security Council missions were imposed upon them without their having any real input.


Also along the theme of greater inclusivity, paragraph (c) of S/2019/990 states that the Council members agree to consider “inviting the Chairs of country-specific configurations of the Peacebuilding Commission to participate as observers in Council missions and dispatching joint missions with regional and subregional organizations, as appropriate and when relevant”, and as agreed on a case-by-case basis.  This expands upon provisions in S/2017/507 on enhancing interaction with the Peacebuilding Commission and regional organizations (para. 93).  It also opens the door to the participation in Council missions of regional and subregional organizations beyond the African Union, whose Peace and Security Council was the only entity mentioned in S/2017/507 in connection with the option for joint missions (para. 122).


Paragraph (e) of the new note encourages closer coordination within the UN system “regarding visiting missions to the same country, including missions of the Council, the Chairs of its subsidiary bodies and the Secretariat”, and also encourages “joint briefings to the Council upon the missions’ completion”.


The new note addresses three other matters which have become fairly politicized in recent years.  The first of these relates to a matter which was detailed in a 2017 article on this website entitled, “Is unanimity required for Security Council missions to the field?”.  Some Council members had begun arguing that unanimity was not a requirement, or should not be, after opposition from one or another Council member had kept a few proposed missions from going forward.  In the new note, this question has been settled by a statement that “all visiting missions should be agreed upon by consensus”.


On another matter, paragraph (c) of S/2019/990 affirms that


“the members of the Security Council agree to consider different composition formats when planning Council missions, including considering the possibility of, and subject to consensus by the Council, sending smaller groups of Council members on missions”.  (our emphasis)


The last of these so-called “mini-missions” occurred in 2012 when six Council members* went to Timor-Leste.  In recent years, the possibility of “mini-missions” had been raised again, but not all Council members were in favour, in part out of concern that a mission of less than fifteen members might not adequately represent all views on the Council.  The present budget constraints impacting on the UN may have contributed to the fact that agreement was reached to acknowledge the option of “mini-missions” in the new presidential note.  However, while the option of smaller missions has now become formalized, it remains to be seen whether the Council will actually dispatch one in the future.  


The differing views on the allowability of “mini-missions” have been somewhat ironic.  That is because from 1964 (when a visit to Cambodia and Viet Nam became the first undertaking to be designated a “Security Council mission”) until 2001, all Council missions were comprised of less than the full Council.  It was only during a visit to Kosovo in 2001 that for the first time all Council members went on a mission together. 


Paragraph (d) of S/2019/990 addresses another fairly politicized matter when it states that the Council members


“agree on the importance of conducting missions within a conflict prevention framework, whereby the Council conducts missions to countries or regions with developing crises, in addition to countries hosting peace operations mandated by the Council, which could serve to lend greater insight to mandate development”.


While Council members have long voiced support for “conflict prevention” as a principle, the specific means of engaging in prevention have often generated controversy within the Council.  This has been the case, for example, with the so-called “horizon-scanning” briefings, which a few Council members have resisted.  Accordingly, it is noteworthy that S/2019/990 specifically endorses the conduct of missions to the field “within a conflict prevention framework”.  


(This update supplements pages 492-498 of the book.)


* South Africa (lead), Azerbaijan, India, Pakistan, Portugal, Togo.



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