The Security Council, the UN’s most powerful body, deals continuously with issues of war and peace. It also devotes a full day each year to discussing its methods of work. Compared to the conflicts in Syria, Yemen or Mali, that subject may sound mundane. It is anything but.
The evolution of the practice and working methods of the Security Council is part of an open-ended process of ever-improving adjustments whose importance may be difficult to appreciate if seen piecemeal or devoid of context. For those who follow the Council’s work, the debate - held yearly since 2010, except for a pause in 2017 - is a unique opportunity to gauge trends and developments within the preeminent global peace and security organ.
The Council adopted its first comprehensive note on working methods in 2006 (S/2006/507). It has since made steady progress on the matter and issued revisions to the original note in 2010 (S/2010/507) and 2017 (S/2017/507).
This year’s debate on working methods took place on 6 June, under the presidency of Kuwait. Below is an overview of the most salient issues:
Bridging the divide between elected and permanent members
Numerous speakers pointed to the importance of burden-sharing, redistribution of work and closer cooperation among the five permanent members of the Council (P5) and the ten elected members (E10). Speakers focused primarily on the issues of equitable chairing of the Council’s subsidiary bodies – and specifically extending the responsibility currently shouldered by the E10 to the P5 – and “co-penholdership” – challenging the current system of penholdership, or responsibility for leading on specific issues or situations, by a few permanent members of the Council. Multiple speakers, including representatives of four permanent Council members, recalled the need to allow for the contribution of all Council members in drafting of the Council’s resolutions and other outcomes. Many speakers focused on the need to share the pen, be it through co-penholdership or other mechanisms.
Greater engagement with other organs and constituencies
The vast majority of speakers emphasized the importance of broader engagement of the Council with the wider membership and other organs of the Organization. In that regard, they referred to the need for increased involvement in meetings of the Council of Member States affected by its decisions, greater interaction with troop- and police- contributing countries and enhanced exchanges with the representatives of other organs, most notably the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council and the Peacebuilding Commission.
Improved interactivity, transparency and further engagement with the larger membership
Speakers called for more interactive discussions, concise interventions and improved use of briefings delivered at Council’s meetings, including from members of the civil society. Others suggested reducing the numbers of informal meetings and consultations for the sake of enhancing transparency of the Council’s work. Many speakers at the meeting also recognized wrap-up sessions as useful tool to engage with the wider membership of the Organization.
Calls for enhanced due process in the context of sanctions
Multiple speakers explored the viability of expanding the Ombudsperson’s role to other sanctions regimes. The representative of Sweden, speaking on behalf of the Group of Like-minded States on Targeted Sanctions, urged the Security Council and the Secretary-General to pursue efforts to ensure that due process is afforded and that human rights are respected.
Restricting the veto
Many speakers called upon the P5 to voluntarily refrain from the use of veto in cases involving mass atrocities in line with the French-Mexican initiative and the Accountability Coherence and Transparency (ACT) Group’s code of conduct. Switzerland, speaking on behalf of the Group, encouraged all States to join the 119 signatories to the ACT code of conduct. The representative of Mexico regretted that “the veto has been used more as a right than what it really is - a responsibility” and proposed holding discussions on vetoed decisions with the involvement of the entire membership as a way of ensuring greater accountability.
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