Updated on 22 March 2021

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)

 

Since its 2016 Annual Report to the General Assembly, the Security Council has been overdue in the adoption of these reports by a number of months, a problem in part attributable to the late submission by individual Council members of their monthly presidency assessments. 

 

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] 

 

The delayed issuance of the Council's reports has meant that the Assembly’s consideration of them has not taken place in recent years until August or September.  Coming so late in the Assembly's sessions, the report has received scant attention.  Other than the Council President who introduced it, only five speakers took the floor in the Assembly in 2017; only two additional speakers did so in 2018.  This contrasts to 19 speakers in 2015.  However, when the Assembly took up the 2018 Annual Report on 10 and 12 September 2019, participation was much broader.  In addition to the Council President, 27 Member States took the floor.

 

The contents of the Annual Report has for some time been criticized by the wider UN membership, so these significant publication delays have added an additional problematic element.  On 19 July 2019, the representative of Switzerland wrote informing the Council that the 25 members of the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group (ACT) were “deeply troubled” by the fact that the 2018 report had not yet been submitted to the Assembly.  This, he pointed out “clearly undermines the ability of the wider United Nations membership to engage in an adequate manner in this process.”[3]

The Security Council members have been keenly aware of these problems which, during 2018 and 2019, were given very targeted consideration in the Council’s Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions (IWG). 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.  For the Annual Report of 2019, the Council members managed to adopt the report (the Introduction to which was drafted by the Russian Federation) on 14 July 2020, weeks earlier than the two previous reports.  Although this timing shows marked improvement, it nonetheless suggests that the 30 May deadline may prove difficult to meet after it goes into effect as of the 2020 Annual Report.

 

The delay in submitting recent Annual Reports has been caused by several intertwining factors:

 

As with many of the Security Council’s working methods, the history of the Annual Report is long and complex.[4]  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.  Of the seven published for 2018, a number came too late to be used in drafting the Introduction. 

 

Since 2018, there's been a slow gain in the number of Council members now issuing their monthly presidency assessments, with nine out of 12 presidencies doing so in 2019 and eight so far for 2020 (it is understandable that the latter 2020 presidencies have not yet submitted). 

 

The following factors explain why in prior years the submission of presidency assessments had declined:  

 

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 issues in the Council became more 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 have 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, a few recently published assessments suggest that at least some Council members may be ready to reinstate the practice of 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, created a “perfect storm” for the delegations responsible for the Introduction in recent years.  With few published assessments on which to base their drafts, those Council members had to start from scratch, requiring more time.  What had also 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 negotiating stage became lengthier. 

 

And in the background was the high standard set for the report’s Introduction 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.

However, after the low level of participation from 2015 to 2017, there has been a resurgence in the publication of presidency assessments, with some Council members submitting theirs even for previous years in an effort to complete the record.  (Sweden, for example, published its assessment for July 2018 in 2019, 17 months later.)  This upward trend is reflected in the submission of nine assessments for 2019.  For 2020, although three assessments are still unsubmitted, the others were fairly quickly published (see table below).

 

During the Open VTC on 15 May 2020 on the Council's working methods, the representative of the Russian Federation, responsible for drafting the Introduction to the 2019 Annual Report, stated that good progress had been made to meeting the deadline of 30 May for its adoption as set out in presidential note S/2019/997, even though that deadline was not to apply until the following year's introduction.

 

Nonetheless, the Council will continue to examine improved modalities for producing a timely, quality Introduction.  This is especially a necessity when Council members with smaller delegations hold the drafting responsibility, as will be the case for Niger for the 2020 report.  One option proposed some years ago was a co-penholder arrangement for drafting the Annual Report Introduction, involving as many as three Council members.  The proposal did not gain traction at the time, but is receiving renewed consideration in the IWG. 

 

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 c) 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 five presidencies, last submitting an assessment in 2014.  The United States has skipped three presidencies, last submitting in 2015.

 

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

This table lists all monthly assessments which have been published, together with (if known) the number of months

between the end of each presidency and the publication date:

__________________

[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] S/2019/582.

[4] 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.”

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

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

[7] 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)).

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

[9] The original non-calendar year reporting cycle created 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.

[10] 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 will be responsible for the 2020 Introduction.

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

[12] 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)