The 15 members of the Security Council – the UN organ with primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security – left New York yesterday on a five-day visit to Bangladesh and Myanmar. Today we take a closer look at how and why the Council embarks on such field missions, which have become more frequent in recent years.
The Council conducts most of its business at UN headquarters in New York. But increasingly, its members are traveling to the areas that figure on the Council’s agenda, in order to see situations first-hand, deliver messages to the parties on the ground and receive feedback.
From 2001 – when all 15 members participated in a Council mission for the first time (to Kosovo) – to 2015, there were two to three missions per year, a total of 36 in 15 years. Both in 2016 and 2017, there were five full-sized missions. And the current trip is already the second this year, after a visit to Afghanistan in January.
Council missions are initiated by one or more members, who lead or co-lead the mission based on the agreement of other Council members. Before presenting a proposal for a trip, members usually discuss the idea with other members and relevant stakeholders informally, including host governments. Once the proposal is formally made in the Council, and if there is consensus, a letter is signed by the President of the Security Council (currently Peru) and sent to the Secretary-General to initiate preparations.
DPA’s Security Council Affairs Division (SCAD) works in close coordination with other UN offices to prepare Council trips.
The programme is usually developed on the ground with guidance from the leading Council members, host governments and UN counterparts. “SCAD’s role is to oversee preparations and the development of the programme to ensure its viability,” says Hasmik Egian, SCAD’s Director.
Typically, meetings are organized with host government officials, other relevant local political actors, UN and other international counterparts on the ground, and civil society representatives, including women’s groups. More focus is given to counterparts that Council members may not have the opportunity to meet in New York. To allow for interaction with representatives of local communities and their leaders, refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) or UN troops and police, field visits outside the capital are incorporated whenever possible. Representatives of the media are usually invited to join Council missions.
Even though the Security Council is travelling, Council members are represented at Headquarters in case an emergency meeting is scheduled, as provided for in Article 28(1) of the Charter: “The Security Council shall be so organized as to be able to function continuously. Each member of the Security Council shall for this purpose be represented at all times at the seat of the Organization.”
The Council, however, can also decide to hold formal meetings at locations away from Headquarters if that would facilitate its work. This has happened on seven occasions: 1946 in London; 1948 and 1952 in Paris; 1972 in Addis Ababa; 1973 in Panama City; 1990 in Geneva, and 2004 in Nairobi.
Title picture: Council visit to the Zone for Normalization La Reforma in La Cooperativa, Meta, Colombia. Photo: Juan Manuel Barrero Bueno