Updated on  13 November 2022

Chapter 9:  RELATIONS WITH OTHER ORGANS AND ENTITIES

Section 1g:  Annual and special reports of the Security Council to the General Assembly

 

Monthly presidency assessments are crucial to preparation of Council’s Annual Report (with table)

 

Timely adoption of the Security Council's Annual Report to the General Assembly is always a challenge, owing not only to the Council's very heavy monthly work programme, but also to the late submission by individual council members of their monthly presidency assessments. Although since 2020 the submission of the report has met the established deadlines, delayed presidency assessments remain a problem. Against this backdrop, this article details steps taken by the Council to try to ensure timelier reports.

 

According to the timetable the Council members set for themselves, the report’s Introduction, for which they are responsible, is to be completed “no later than 31 January”.[1]  Together with the factual body of the report prepared by the Secretariat, the draft was to be discussed and adopted by the Council “in time for consideration by the General Assembly in the spring”.[2] 

 

Because of delays in submitting Annual Reports prior to 2020, during 2018 and 2019 the Security Council members gave very targeted attention in the Council’s Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions (IWG) to how the report's timelier publication. As a result of these deliberations, a Note by the Council President (S/2019/997) was published on 27 December 2019 which, among its other provisions, recalls the 31 January deadline for completing the report’s Introduction, and sets a deadline for adopting the report in its entirety “no later than 30 May, in time for its consideration by the General Assembly immediately thereafter”, effective as of the report for the year 2020.  Following the adoption of the new presidential note, Council members managed to adopt the next report (the Introduction to which was drafted by the Russian Federation) on 14 July 2020, weeks earlier than the two previous reports.  And the timely agreement of the Introduction of the following year's report, drafted by Niger, allowed the Council to comfortably meet that report's 2021 publication deadline.

 

As with many of the Security Council’s working methods, the history of the Annual Report is long and complex.[3]  Prior to 2002, the report was a purely factual document, drafted in its entirety by the Secretariat and then approved by the Council members.  Then, in May 2002, upon the initiative of Singapore, the Council decided in presidential note S/2002/199 that thereafter, the report would include an “Introduction”.  Although the presidential note does not elaborate, it was understood at the time that the Introduction would be drafted by the Council members themselves and that it was intended as a response to calls from the wider UN membership for the Council to demonstrate greater transparency and accountability.

 

The idea that the Council members themselves might, in the Annual Report, provide written insights into their work had already been advanced five years previous, but on an individual basis.  In presidential note S/1997/451, the Council agreed that

 

“There will also be attached, as an addendum to the [annual] report, brief assessments on the work of the Security Council, which representatives who have completed their functions as President of the Security Council may wish to prepare, under their own responsibility and following consultations with members of the Council for the month during which they presided and which should not be considered as representing the views of the Council.”

 

Although note S/1997/451 made clear such assessments were optional, from their inception in mid-1997 through 2014, only two delegations failed to submit them.[5]  While at first the assessments were published as part of the Annual Report, from 2001 onwards they were issued as separate Council documents, with their symbols merely listed in the report.

 

Thus in 2002, when the Council decided to prepare its own, more substantive Introduction, it was assumed that the delegation designated each year to prepare the draft would have, for reference, monthly summaries of the Council’s work during the reporting period.[6]  In fact, this connection between the monthly assessments and the Introduction came to be explicitly mentioned in presidential notes beginning in 2010.[7]  The most recent comprehensive presidential note on working methods, S/2017/507, states:

 

“The members of the Security Council recognize the value of a monthly assessment of each presidency in providing as much information as possible on the main aspects of the work of the Council during that month, which can be useful in the preparation of the annual report.” (our italics)

 

Although not specified in a presidential note until 2010, after 2002 the Council member responsible for drafting the Introduction came, by practice, to be the delegation which held the presidency for the month of July.[8]  Until the reporting period was changed in 2015 to conform to the calendar year, the reports had covered a period ending in July.  This was in order that they might be finalized in time to present to the General Assembly’s regular fall session, since in earlier decades the Assembly usually did not meet at other times during the year.[9]  Thus the rationale for having the Council President for the month of July draft the Introduction was that this would be the last presidency of the reporting period.

 

This drafting arrangement was carried over by presidential notes S/2015/944 and then S/2017/507, with the caveat that if the July president was a Council member whose tenure would end that year, the drafting responsibility could pass, in alphabetical order, to the next delegation that would not be leaving the Council by year’s end.[10]

 

In 2015, the Council agreed on several measures to improve the working methods relating to its Annual Report.[11]  These measures were initiated primarily by Lithuania and the Russian Federation, partly in response to the lengthy and contentious negotiations on the Introduction drafted by New Zealand earlier that year.  When the 2014-15 Annual Report was adopted on 20 October 2015 (S/PV.7538), the representative of New Zealand noted that negotiating the Introduction had been “quite an intensive process” lasting nearly three months.  He added that his delegation “would have preferred a document that contained more self-reflection on the Council’s performance”, but he acknowledged that “this report is a Council document and requires the support of all Council members.”

 

In parallel with the arduous negotiations over the 2015 Introduction, difficulties were arising in connection with the monthly assessments.  Whereas before, Council presidencies routinely published such assessments, in 2015, three were not submitted.  Thereafter, only three were published for 2016 and five for 2017.  Moreover, a number of these assessments were published too late to be of use in drafting the Annual Report Introduction.

 

Beginning in 2018, there was a slow gain in the number of Council members issuing their monthly presidency assessments, with seven out of 12 presidencies doing so in 2018, nine in 2019, and ten in 2020. However, for 2021, only seven assessments have been published.  

 

The following factors explain why the practice of submitting presidency assessments has been uneven:  

 

First, the assessments have become politically more difficult to undertake.  As noted by the representative of New Zealand at the 2015 adoption meeting, the Annual Report is a document of the Council and therefore requires consensus.  On the contrary, the monthly assessments are not Council documents, but rather are submitted by each representative in their national capacity and therefore technically do not require consensus.  This was made clear when the assessments were initially to be published as part of the Annual Report.  The relevant presidential note S/1997/451 included a disclaimer to be carried by the report stating:

 

“The attachment of the assessments of former Presidents on the work of the Security Council as an addendum to the report is intended to have an informative purpose and should not necessarily be considered as representing the views of the Security Council.”

 

The monthly assessments of each Council President generally provide a descriptive record of all formal meetings and informal consultations, briefings given to the Council, decisions, press statements, and other activities of the Council.  Moreover, as noted in our book (page 445), 

 

“Because the assessments are prepared by each delegation in its national capacity, they are sometimes more candid and contain more insights into the work of the Council than the Council’s Annual Reports.” 

 

Over time, these “candid and insightful” contents came to be valued by non-Council Member States as giving a better window into the Council’s work.  It was these same two qualities, however, which began to create difficulties with some other Council members.  Around 2015, as substantive issues before the Council continued to be divisive, certain members (sometimes including, but not limited to, the P5), upon seeing advance drafts of assessments, began making fairly forceful objections to certain passages.  In such situations, some presidency delegations decided to compromise and revise problematic language.  Others, however, have not wanted to include in their assessments a perspective not their own, but neither have they wanted to have a falling-out with a fellow Council member over a relatively minor aspect of the Council’s work.  In such cases, those delegations simply have withheld their drafts from publication.  Still other delegations, having witnessed the challenges to some assessments, have decided to forgo that kind of situation altogether and simply not prepare a draft.  And finally, the assessments having become rare, some incoming members have been unaware of the practice of preparing one.

However, the increase in assessments published from 2018 to 2020 suggests that at least some Council members are again committing to publishing, in their national capacity, assessments which do not necessarily represent full consensus among all Council members.  This is especially intimated by the cover letters sent by Sweden and Equatorial Guinea, which each state that the respective assessments “should not be considered as representing the views of the Council." (S/2019/946 and S/2019/1015). 

 

A second reason for the infrequency of published assessments has been the Council’s heavy workload, both formal and informal.  In recent years, many delegations have been stretched very thin, especially elected members chairing demanding subsidiary bodies.  Accordingly, having seen the uncertain path of others’ draft assessments, some delegations have decided to concentrate their limited resources on matters more directly connected to the Council’s work programme.

 

These various developments, taken together, have the task of the delegation drafting the Introduction to each year's Annual Report considerably more difficult. With fewer published assessments on which to base their drafts, those Council members have had, for many topics, to start from scratch, requiring more time and effort.  A second difficulty has been created as a result of delayed or missing assessments. In the past, what made the assessments particularly useful was that if published without controversy, the language they contained could, as relevant, be employed virtually verbatim in the report’s Introduction, with some assurance that it would be acceptable to Council members.  Without this “pre-approval” in the form of monthly assessments, the negotiations on the Introduction have sometimes become more contentious. 

 

And in the background has been the high standard set for the report’s Introduction set by the wider UN membership, which repeatedly has criticized it for being insufficiently analytical.[12]  Some Council members have attempted to be responsive to this criticism, but have not found much leeway within the Council as a whole, and their attempts in some instances may have further prolonged the negotiating process.

Overall, as the Council continues its efforts to improve the Annual Report process, it is well to recognize that tensions will probably always exist between the somewhat mutually incompatible goals of producing a) a high-quality, analytical Introduction which b) gains the support of all Council members and meets the established deadlines.

As for the monthly presidency assessments, it remains to be seen whether their submission will again become universal.  For the time being, it is two permanent members who have most been lagging.  The Russian Federation has skipped six presidencies, last submitting an assessment in 2014.  The United States has skipped four presidencies, last submitting in 2015.

 

Table of monthly assessments          Chart of assessments by year

(This update supplements pages 124, 444-445, and 585-590 of the book.)

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[1] Note by the President S/2017/507, para. 130.

[2] S/2017/507, para. 132.  The Secretariat is to submit the body of the report to Council members by 15 March.

[3] See book, pages 585-590.  Article 24(3) of the UN Charter provides that “The Security Council shall submit annual and, when necessary, special reports to the General Assembly for its consideration.”  In parallel, Article 15(1) provides that “The General Assembly shall receive and consider annual and special reports from the Security Council; these reports shall include an account of the measures that the Security Council has decided upon or taken to maintain international peace and security.”

[4]  Gabon (1999) and the United Kingdom (2014).  See attached table.

[5]  See "Security Council to Adopt Annual Report"What's in Blue, Security Council Report, 19 August 2019.

[6] That note, after encouraging all Council members to prepare a monthly presidency assessment in a timely manner, encouraged the member preparing the Introduction “to consult [the assessments] for reference” (S/2010/507, paras. 62 and 71(d)).

[7] See S/2010/507, para. 71(a).

[8] The original non-calendar year reporting cycle creates difficulties for researchers.  It also created the anomaly that the terms of the elected members reviewing the reports did not always match up with the period covered.

[9] Interestingly, during the early years of the new arrangement, three of the four delegations responsible for drafting the report have been permanent members:  China (2017), the United Kingdom (2018), and the Russian Federation (2019).  Japan prepared the 2016 Introduction, which covered an additional five months so as to recalibrate the reporting period to the calendar year.  Niger was responsible for the 2020 Introduction, and France, for the 2021 Introduction. Brazil will draft the 2022 Introduction.

[10] S/2015/944 of 10 December 2015.

[11] The fact that today the Introduction is largely judged by the wider UN membership according to the degree to which it is analytical marks an interesting shift from the earliest purposes of the report as discussed at the San Francisco conference.  The book (page 585) notes that during the drafting of the UN Charter, some delegations viewed the purpose of annual reports from the Council to the Assembly as simply “for information”, whereas others thought the reports should convey to UN Member States the specific actions which might be required of them in support of Council decisions.  Eventually, it was decided in Article 24(3) that the reports would be for the Assembly’s “consideration”.  However, the Charter also includes an echo of the viewpoint that the reports should, as appropriate, further implementation of Council decisions, in that Article 15(1) provides that the reports “shall include an account of the measures that the Security Council has decided upon or taken to maintain international peace and security”.   Reflecting these rather modest goals, the first Annual Reports were very factual summaries.  The Introduction to the third report in fact stated that “This report is essentially a summary and a guide; it merely reflects the broad lines of the debates.” (GAOR, 3rd Session, Supp. 2 (A/620), 1948)