Just as the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations was getting into high gear early last year, life as we knew it was suddenly upended by COVID-19, including the work of the Security Council. One day after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the Council stopped meeting in person. After exclusively holding videoconferences beginning on 12 March, the Council developed a “hybrid model” implemented from 14 July 2020, whereby it held in-person meetings and videoconferences interchangeably. This allowed the Council to function continuously and sustain its activity in fulfilling its primary responsibility to maintain international peace and security.
The Council has found innovative solutions to adapt its work to the “new normal”, with 15 digital tiles often replacing the familiar image of its 15 members sitting around the horseshoe table. Responding to the challenges posed by the remote environment, successive Council presidencies in 2020 issued monthly letters creating new working methods, including new procedures for the adoption of its decisions. All of this is chronicled in the newly-released Highlights of Security Council Practice, which also contains up-to-date statistics and data for the year.
For example, as captured in the Highlights, in 2020, the Council held 81 meetings and 269 videoconferences; adopted 57 resolutions; issued 13 presidential statements and considered 43 agenda items. The Council also witnessed members increasingly coalescing around regions, with, for example, African members Niger, South Africa and Tunisia joining forces with Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to form the A3+1. Or Asian members Viet Nam and Indonesia often speaking on behalf of one another. Following the 2019 Franco-German “twin Presidency”, the Council’s European members aligned their objectives and working methods in what they termed “the European Spring” (involving the Presidencies of Estonia, France and Germany).
Despite the year’s challenges, the Council marked the UN’s 75th anniversary with two presidential statements reaffirming its commitment to the UN Charter (S/PRST/2020/1) and expressing its continued commitment to foster interaction between the International Court of Justice and the Council (S/PRST/2020/13). The Council also unanimously adopted a series of other important measures, including resolution 2532 (2020) recognizing efforts and measures proposed by the Secretary-General concerning the response to the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to conflict-affected countries and demanding a general and immediate cessation of hostilities in all situations on its agenda.
The pandemic highlighted the importance of international cooperation. But 2020 was also marked by division and polarization, including in the Council. The number of resolutions Council members adopted unanimously dropped by 7%, compared to 2019 (77% percent of resolutions were adopted unanimously in 2020). Five vetoes were cast in connection with three draft resolutions related to the Syrian conflict, specifically, to the cross-border humanitarian mechanism, and one related to the topic of foreign terrorist fighters. In addition, four draft resolutions were not adopted due to an insufficient number of affirmative votes: two in connection with the Syrian conflict, one related to the extension of arms-related restrictions on Iran and one on the women and peace and security agenda on the 20th anniversary of the Council’s landmark resolution 1325 (2000).
In 2020, the Council also established a new field mission, the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), and terminated the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) as of 31 December 2020. It also extended the mandate of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS) until 31 December 2020, focusing on the transition plan for its gradual drawdown by the end of 2020.
At the end of 2020, among the 10 non-permanent members, Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa successfully completed their two-year tenure. India, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, and Norway joined the Council on 1 January 2021.
Published every year since 2011 by the Security Council Affairs Division (SCAD), the Highlights Paper offers a snapshot of the activities of the Council over the past year on the most significant procedural and constitutional developments relating to its meetings and videoconferences, agenda, decisions adopted and voting patterns as well as its subsidiary bodies. The 2020 edition builds on the revamped version launched last year, using a new platform with visually engaging data visualization and interactive maps and graphs.
In addition, SCAD makes available on the Council’s website a wealth of data and information concerning the work of the Council on a wide range of issues including its past and current practice, working methods, sanctions measures and bodies, mandates of existing peacekeeping and special political missions as well as on the current and upcoming programme of work of the Council. A number of interactive dashboards are also available, including on Women and peace and security, Children and armed conflict, Protection of civilians in armed conflict, Membership of the Council since 1946, as well as on participation of women in the main areas of Council’s work.
Title picture: Inga Rhonda King (left), Permanent Representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to the United Nations and President of the Security Council for the month of November, chairs the Security Council meeting on the situation in Mali. UN Photo/Manuel Elías