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30 August 2023


Section 7:   Appointment of bureaux of subsidiary bodies


2023 presidential note establishes contingency measure if appointing subsidiary bodies bureaux is delayed


Through a Note by the President dated 21 August 2023 (S/2023/615), the Security Council has adopted a “contingency measure” in the event that appointing Chairs and Vice Chairs of its subsidiary bodies is delayed beyond 1 January of each new year. The Note was negotiated in the Council's Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions (IWG), chaired by Albania. The measure was deemed necessary because in 2021, 2022 and 2023, the appointments were not finalized by January, leaving approximately half of the bodies without a Chair who was legally authorized to fulfil official duties. These duties include such actions as signing formal letters, briefing the Security Council, and taking decisions vis-à-vis expert groups.


This chart shows the length of delays that have occurred with respect to bureaux appointments since the year 2000.

The appointment of subsidiary bureaux is negotiated through a process set out in presidential notes S/2017/507 and S/2019/991. In accordance with paragraph 113 of the former, consultations on the appointments are “facilitated jointly by two members of the Security Council”. While not specified in the note, it was confirmed in a 2016 press statement by the then Chair of the IWG[1] that these co-facilitators are to be the Informal Working Group Chair and the rotating P5 coordinator for the relevant months.[2]


For 2023, soon after their election to the Council in June 2022, the incoming members quickly agreed on an apportionment of the available chairpersonships. However, their plan in its entirety was not accepted by the permanent members.[3] It took until 30 January 2023 for a compromise to be reached that would allow the relevant presidential note to be issued. Only once have chairpersonships been decided later than this – in 2010, when the list was not issued until 31 January.


The obstacle to finalizing the 2023 appointments was not due to disagreements over the bureaux for that year. Rather, it concerned arrangements for chairing the IWG in 2024, that is, the following year. Reportedly, the elected Council members wished to see in the presidential note a footnote similar to those in the 2021 and 2022 presidential notes. The 2021 footnote stated that India would chair the Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC) the following year, after Tunisia completed its term as Chair. The 2022 footnote similarly indicated that the United Arab Emirates would take over as CTC Chair the following year, after India completed its term.[4]


However, for the 2023 note, reportedly the P5 did not agree to elected members’ proposal that there be a footnote indicating that Japan would chair the IWG the following year, after Albania completed its term as Chair. Ultimately, the E10 took two actions: 1) They dropped their request for the footnote so that the 2023 appointments could go forward; and

2) They instead joined together under Ecuador, the E10 coordinator for January, to send a letter to the Council President on this issue (S/2023/68). The letter stated 


“The 10 elected members expect that in making the final decision on the chairmanship of the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions in 2024, the Security Council will take note of the position of the current members of the Council as well as the views of the new members to be elected in June 2023. The current 10 elected members underline that they unanimously support Japan as Chair of the Informal Working Group in 2024.”[5]


The problem of a vacuum in chairpersonships occurring in a new year had been before the Security Council for several years. An earlier proposal for addressing this issue was put forward by Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), the 2020-2021 IWG Chair. In her letter sharing reflections on that term (S/2022/88), the SVG representative suggested that one solution would be for the Chair and Vice-Chairs of each subsidiary body be appointed “for alternate two-year terms,” so that “the previously agreed Vice-Chair could step in to chair the subsidiary body” should there be a delay in naming the Chair. This proposal was given serious consideration, but in the end it was felt that the permutations that would need to be calculated were too complex. Moreover, it might create additional disagreements involving incoming members which did, or did not, want to serve as specific Vice Chairs if this might potentially entail a more political role.


Ultimately, authorizing the Council President to act in the event of a delay seemed the most workable approach. It also has the advantage of requiring no adjustments in years in which no vacuum occurs. And in terms of precedent, there is at least one past case of a Security Council President handling the official business of a subsidiary body lacking a Chair. The Council established the Al-Qaida/Taliban sanctions committee by its resolution 1267 (1999) adopted on 15 October 1999. With so little time remaining in the year, the Council decided to wait to designate the 1267 Chair until all new bureaux assignments were named in January 2000. In the interim, when it was necessary for the committee to take official action in December 1999, in the absence of an appointed Chair, the Council President (United Kingdom) acted on the committee's behalf.


While the new presidential note S/2023/615 now ensures that official business can be handled even if some subsidiary bodies lack a Chair by January of a new year, the Security Council has not yet resolved a second problem caused by delayed appointments. This problem is the lack of time necessary for a thorough handover from outgoing Chairs.


In 2017, aware of the need for a sufficient transition period, the Security Council set three months prior to the new Chairs’ taking office as the target date for finalizing the appointments. Paragraph 111 of presidential note S/2017/507 states that Council members “should make every effort to agree provisionally on the appointment of the Chairs of the subsidiary bodies for the following year no later than 1 October.” The Council chose this target date because members felt that given the increasing complexity of subsidiary bodies, incoming Chairs needed an extended period of time to be thoroughly briefed by outgoing Chairs and the Secretariat on the responsibilities entailed, as well as on problems unique to individual bodies.


The knowledge transfer for Chairs can be so challenging that S/2017/507 devotes four paragraphs to this subject. The note provides, inter alia, for a) “written and oral briefings” from the outgoing Chair; b) the sharing of “documents adopted during the outgoing chairmanship and all informal documents and background information the outgoing Chair deems pertinent for enlightening the incoming Chair, including draft documents being discussed by the subsidiary body”;

c) possible “additional substantive and methodological briefings” by the Secretariat; and d) “early consultations between sanctions monitoring teams, groups and panels and incoming Chairs of the sanctions committees”.


Thus, the new presidential note notwithstanding, the need for adequate time for incoming Chairs to prepare for their new roles will still require that Council members make best efforts to finalize the appointments by the target date of 1 October.


(This update supplements pages 556 to 559 of the book.)


[1] Koro Bessho, Permanent Representative of Japan.

[2] For the 2024 appointment process, one co-facilitator is Albania, Chair of the IWG. The P5 coordinators during the process for 2024 are China (through July 2023), the United States (August-October 2023), and the Russian Federation (November 2023-January 2024), according to the E10 Handbook: A Practical Guide for Security Council members, revised edition (2023), prepared by the Permanent Missions of Ireland and of the United Arab Emirates.

[3] It is sometimes reported that the “P5” have blocked a slate proposed by the E10. In this connection, it should be noted that the decision on the appointments is, by practice, published in the format of a Note by the President, a format which requires the full consensus of all 15 Council members. Accordingly, any Council member can prevent the proposed appointments from going forward. And in fact, in the past it has sometimes happened that delays have been occasioned by an elected member.

[4] The general consensus among Council members has been that it is best for each elected member to chair the same subsidiary body for two successive years. Nonetheless, there have been ample cases of a member chairing a subsidiary body for a single year, and in some instances, such arrangements have been agreed the prior year. However, it was not until 2021 that presidential notes so indicated. In 2022, another new practice occurred when the presidential note indicated that Mexico, a continuing member, would take on the position of Vice Chair for the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict that year. However, no such indications relating to Vice Chairs appeared in the 2023 presidential note.

[5] It is not yet known whether this joint statement of support for Japan to be named IWG Chair for 2024 will be honoured as part of the next appointment process.



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