The deliberations of the United Nations Security Council often make the news. Whether as a result of the adoption of resolutions on questions of war and peace, or because its members are trading barbed comments across the chamber’s horseshoe table, the Council attracts global attention as no other UN institution does. The Council’s debates and action are informed by history and precedent. That accumulated experience is recorded in a publication that, unlike the 15-member UN body itself, is little known to the non-initiated. Today we take a look at that unique product, the Repertoire of the Practice of the Security Council, the authoritative record of the Council’s interpretation and application of the UN Charter and its own Provisional Rules of Procedure.
Soon after the creation of the United Nations, the General Assembly needed a way to make evidence and information about the growing body of customary international law more readily available. In 1952, it mandated the Secretary-General to undertake the publication of the Repertoire of the Practice of the Security Council, which has since become a key source of information for Council members, other Member States, the United Nations system at large, academia, analysts and practitioners of public international law.
The Repertoire is prepared by the Security Council Affairs Division of the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs to provide information regarding the evolving practice of the most powerful body of the United Nations. It was first published in 1954 and has since been updated with 22 supplements. We reproduce below the highlights from the advance versions of parts III, IV and V of the 22nd Supplement, covering 2019. These are the first of the traditional 10 parts that make up the Repertoire. They are available in full on the Council’s website.
Purposes and principles of the United Nations
Part III of the Repertoire covers the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations, as defined in Chapter I of the Charter, namely the right to self-determination, the prohibition of the threat and the use of force in international relations, the obligation to refrain from assisting a target of Council’s enforcement action and the non-intervention of the United Nations in the internal affairs of States. As featured in the most recent edition of the Repertoire, in 2019, Council members referred to the principle of self-determination of peoples under Article 1 (2) of the Charter in discussions on the situations in the Sudan, Ukraine, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Western Sahara, and the Palestinian question, as well as in the context of an open debate on mercenary activities in Africa.
Part III also covers discussions at the Council regarding the application of Article 2 (4), concerning the principles of respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-interference in the internal affairs of other States and the prohibition of the threat or use of force. Of particular interest are the four meetings on the situation in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, of which the Council became seized in January 2019. Council members exchanged views on two competing draft resolutions addressing the situation in that country, neither of which was adopted. Article 2 (4) was also raised extensively in discussions following the proclamation of the United States in March 2019, recognizing the sovereignty of Israel over the Golan Heights.
Relations and Cooperation with Other UN Principal Organs
Part IV of the Repertoire provides a comprehensive review of the Council’s relations and cooperation with the other principal organs of the United Nations: the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the International Court of Justice.
The diverse cooperation between the Security Council and the General Assembly is governed by multiple provisions of the Charter, their respective rules of procedure and the Statute of the International Court of Justice. This cooperation ranges from the concurrent responsibility of the two organs in the maintenance of international peace and security to the joint decision-making on matters such as the election and appointment of judges, respectively, to the International Court of Justice and the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals.
In 2019, the General Assembly addressed in its resolutions several recommendations to the Council. For example, the Assembly encouraged the Council to consult regional organizations in its work, particularly the African Union, especially in transitions from a regional to a United Nations peacekeeping operation. On country-specific matters, the General Assembly recommended that the Council continue to take appropriate action with respect to the human rights situations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the Syrian Arab Republic. Part IV also features Council discussions on its cooperation with subsidiary organs of the General Assembly such as the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations and the Human Rights Council.
When it comes to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Part IV features this year the participation by its President in a Council meeting for the first time since 2009, on the situation concerning Haiti. In 2019, discussions in the Council also focused on the cooperation with ECOSOC on addressing the impact of climate-related disasters on international peace and security.
Security Council Functions and Powers
Part V provides insight in the Council’s interpretation of its own functions and powers under Articles 24 to 26 of the Charter. Here, the spotlight is on the core of the work of the Council – its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. The chapter also sheds light on the obligation of Member States to accept and carry out the decisions of the Council.
Among the highlights of Part V in 2019 are the discussions in the Council on the interpretation and application of Articles 24 and 25. In 2019, discussions focused on the role of the Council in connection with the situation in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the impact of climate-related disasters on international peace and security. Council members also exchanged views on the obligation of Member States to carry out decisions of the Council in the context of the Palestinian question and in relation to resolution 1540 (2004) related to the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In a high-level debate held following the adoption of resolution 2462 (2019) on the prevention of and combating the financing of terrorism, speakers addressed the obligation of Member States to carry out and implement these decisions of the Council.
The Repertoire is prepared by the Security Council Practices and Charter Research Branch, the advisory and research arm of the Security Council Affairs Division in the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs. The remaining parts of the 22nd Supplement, covering the practice of the Council recorded in 2019, are slated for publication in the coming months.