posted on Tue 3 Apr 2012 3:15 PM
Security Council Retreat with the Secretary-General

The annual Security Council Retreat with the Secretary-General begins this evening (3 April), with a full day of discussions tomorrow (4 April). The Secretary-General and senior staff of the UN Secretariat will meet with Security Council members, represented at the ambassadorial level only. During this evening’s dinner, it seems senior military advisers will deliver presentations on one of the retreat’s three areas of focus: improving the on-the-ground impact of peacekeeping operations. The second and third topics to be covered during the retreat are the growing challenge that transnational crime presents to peace and security, and the approaches at the Council’s disposal when dealing with gross violations of human rights.

The first session, on improving peacekeeping on the ground, seems set to include discussion of the widening array of political and security objectives of UN missions in 21st century post-conflict situations. It seems likely that a critical approach will be taken, focused on building and retaining the credibility and legitimacy of missions on the ground. For example, it seems the Secretariat is keen to discuss specific missions where troops have fallen short of expectations or have not been able to fully carry out their mandates, such as in Abyei and in Darfur.

The retreat’s second session on Wednesday is on the growing challenge of transnational crime (including drug trafficking, piracy, and organised crime) to peace and security. Counter-piracy has been one area where the Council has been particularly active in recent times, primarily concerning the coast of Somalia and the Gulf of Guinea. (On 21 February, under Togo’s presidency, the Secretary-General briefed the Council during a high-level debate on the impact of transnational organised crime on peace and security specifically in West Africa and the wider Sahel region, and the Council discussed piracy in the Gulf of Guinea later that month.)

It seems that there may again be interest in assessing the UN responses to date on transnational crime, and—drawing on past experiences—discussing where progress can be made. Discussion is also likely on the lack of sufficient tools and resources in combating threats, as well as the inadequacy of shared knowledge of which approaches work best. Additionally, the point about international responses still being targeted at the national-level, despite the regional and often global nature of the issues at hand, is likely to be covered.

The third session on Wednesday will address the tools that the Council can use—and different approaches it can take—when confronting situations where there have been gross human rights violations and mass atrocities. The discussion is likely to include the appropriate conditions for the Council to become engaged, what measures it can take to improve the situation and what preventative tools are at its disposal. In terms of the information-gathering methods available, some Council members might be interested in discussing the usefulness of innovative Council gatherings, such as interactive informal dialogues, the DPA’s monthly “horizon-scanning” briefings and Arria formula meetings. Other responses that may be analysed are Council pronouncements (and their impact on the ground) and the Secretary-General’s deployment of envoys in areas where gross human rights violations have occurred. Another interesting area for discussion might be the Council’s establishment of international criminal tribunals (ICTY, ICTR) and its role in the creation of other hybrid tribunals – as well as its referral of situations to the International Criminal Court or recourse to Article 34 of the Charter, which allows the Council to investigate “any situation which might lead to international friction or give rise to a dispute.”

The previous Council retreat with the Secretary-General took place at the end of April last year. It focused on lessons from political missions, UN peacekeeping operations and the UN’s role in fostering peace and development in the Arab world.

The retreat is often seen as a useful opportunity for senior Secretariat staff and Council members to take a step back from day-to-day Council activity and reflect at a strategic level on key peace and security issues. No formal outcome is produced. Despite the potential for useful policy discussion, in the past it seems that the annual retreat has rarely led to obvious changes in the Council’s dynamic or approach to issues. But it clearly offers a sounding board for the Secretariat to take the pulse of the Council on key strategic issues and for the permanent representatives to network in a less pressured environment.

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