posted on Tue 9 Feb 2016 12:37 PM
Working Methods Debate

On Thursday (11 February), at the initiative of Venezuela, the Security Council is scheduled to hold a debate titled “Working Methods of Security Council Subsidiary Organs”. A concept note for the debate was circulated on 2 February (S/2016/102). Briefings are expected by the Deputy Permanent Representative of Chile, Carlos Olguín Cigarroa, on behalf of Ambassador Cristián Barros, and by Ambassador Olof Skoog of Sweden. Barros chaired the 1572 Côte d’Ivoire and 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committees, as well as the Informal Working Group on International Tribunals during Chile’s 2014-15 term as an elected Council member. Sweden was one of the five main sponsors of the High-Level Review of UN Sanctions launched in May 2014, which resulted in the publication of a compendium that was submitted to the Council in June last year (S/2015/432). In addition, countries affected by sanctions have been invited to speak under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure. At press time, the participation of Eritrea, Iran, Libya and Sudan had been confirmed. It seems that ACT, a group of 25 countries pursuing the improvement of the Council’s working methods with Switzerland as its coordinator, also requested to speak. (ACT stands for Accountability, Coherence and Transparency.) However, due to the opposition of mainly one Council member, the request was denied. It seems this led to the decision to invite Sweden to speak as a way of ensuring a balanced expression of views.

As an outcome, Venezuela has proposed a presidential note. In an interesting break from recent Council practice, Venezuela first introduced the draft only to the Council’s ten elected members and did not include the permanent members (P5) in the initial negotiations. The logic behind this approach seems to be that only elected members chair subsidiary bodies. The draft was agreed by the elected members last week and shared with the P5 on Monday. However, the document, which will still have to be agreed by all fifteen Council members, will not be finalised until after the meeting on Thursday, in order for views expressed in the debate to be taken into account.

The idea to convene a debate on the working methods of subsidiary bodies apparently was sparked by Venezuela’s own experience as an elected member and chair of the 751/1907 Somalia/Eritrea and 1591 Sudan Sanctions Committees. Venezuela has at times appeared frustrated in this role, as when in October 2015 it abstained on resolution 2244 renewing the mandate of the Monitoring Group assisting the 751/1907 Somalia-Eritrea Sanctions Committee. In an explanation of vote, Venezuela complained about a lack of transparency and inclusiveness in the negotiation process and demanded more respect for the opinions of every Council member – whether permanent or non-permanent (S/PV.7541). Although not explicitly stated, it seems that Venezuela was particularly frustrated that it was not consulted in its capacity as chair of the Sanctions Committee by the penholder drafting the resolution, in this case the UK.

Three main issues for the debate are outlined in the concept note: transparency in the working methods of sanctions committees, preparation of new Council members and unintended impact of selective and sectoral sanctions. With regard to transparency, the note highlights the need for appropriate channels of communication with other bodies and entities of the UN, regional organisations and neighbouring and affected countries. New measures suggested for the Council’s consideration include more frequent open briefings and consultations with affected countries, dissemination of information through international media, circulation of summary records of committee meetings, and better information to member states on actions required for the lifting of sanctions.

With regard to preparation of new Council members, the note asserts that incoming committee chairs are selected too late and receive little or no support. It suggests that the Council should select chairs of sanctions committees in a “balanced, transparent, efficient and inclusive manner” involving all Council members, that this should happen as early as possible after the new Council members are elected, that the Security Council’s subsidiary organs branch should organise handover meetings between incoming and outgoing chairs and thorough training for new chairs and their staff. In addition it suggests that there should be regular coordination meetings among committee chairs and between chairs and the respective penholders to discuss the role of sanctions as part of an overall political strategy.

Lastly, the concept note states that sanctions frequently result in unintended consequences such as a negative humanitarian impact, economic costs for neighbouring states, and the criminalisation of basic economic activities. In response, the note suggests that the Council should consider whether to include in the mandate of panel of experts and sanctions committees a review of such unintended consequences, and also request the Secretary-General to provide a comprehensive report on the issue.

It seems that elected Council members generally welcome the opportunity to focus specifically on working methods at the subsidiary level and share many of the same frustrations when it comes to the lack of transparency and lack of coordination between chairs and penholders, who are almost exclusively permanent members. Although many of the key issues outlined by Venezuela have been addressed in previous presidential notes and in the 2006 report of the Working Group on General Issues of Sanctions, it seems widely agreed, at least by the Council’s non-permanent members and by non-Council members, that the measures contained in these notes have not been consistently implemented. These include measures such as the need for sanctions committees to seek the views of affected countries and the importance of administrative support from the Secretariat as outlined in the 2010 presidential note on working methods (S/2010/507); the importance of selecting the chairs in a balanced, transparent, efficient and inclusive way soon after the election of new members, as stated in a 2012 presidential note (S/2012/937); and the value of substantive open briefings on the work of subsidiary bodies for non-Council members, as highlighted in a 2013 presidential note (S/2013/515). Most recently, in June 2014, in a presidential note specifically addressing the need for continuity in the work of subsidiary bodies (S/2014/393), Council members reiterated that new chairs should be appointed as early as possible, and encouraged outgoing chairs to provide an informal written report accompanied by relevant informal documents and background information and hold informal meetings with incoming chairs.

The draft presidential note now agreed by the elected members builds on these previously agreed measures and contains many of the elements suggested by Venezuela in the concept note, with the exception of those related to unintended consequences of sanctions. It seems that some elected members felt that the question of unintended consequences of sanctions was of a more substantive nature and therefore should not be addressed in a working methods context. An argument was also made that any mention of the negative impact of sanctions would have to be balanced by a reference to the importance of implementation by states of sanctions imposed by the Council. The draft presidential note currently on the table therefore focuses only on issues related to transparency, the selection and preparation of chairs and coordination.

With regard to transparency, the draft suggests, in addition to many of the elements included in the concept note, that all meetings and provisional agendas of relevant meetings of subsidiary organs should be publicly announced and encourages the Secretariat to ensure that all relevant documents, such as sanctions lists and experts’ reports, are translated and websites are updated in a timely fashion in all UN languages. When it comes to the selection of chairs, it reiterates the importance of a balanced, transparent and inclusive process, and calls for appointments to be made at least three months before the start of a chairmanship.

As regards the preparation of chairs, the draft acknowledges the efforts made by the Secretariat in improving the process, but calls for further measures to provide incoming members with adequate training on the work of subsidiary bodies and reiterates that outgoing chairs should provide written and oral briefings to incoming chairs.

Additionally, the draft expands on the elements contained in the concept note aimed at improving interaction and coordination among subsidiary organs. In particular, it suggests that the relationship between the roles of chairs and lead countries in the Council country-specific situations as well as thematic issues should be reviewed to ensure that sanctions are considered as an integral part of an overall political strategy. It moreover calls for greater coordination at the subsidiary level on related thematic and country-specific issues and between the Council president and chairs.

As a final point, the draft states only that the Council will continue to consider ways to improve the work of the Council’s subsidiary bodies. It seems that a provision included in an earlier draft to create a sub-working group within the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions tasked with the implementation of the recommendations contained in the note and to consider further ways to improve the work of the subsidiary organs, did not make it into the version that was circulated on Monday.
It remains to be seen what the reactions of the P5 will be to the proposed presidential note. In terms of procedure, they may not be particularly happy about having been left out of the initial negotiations of the draft, but may find it hard to make an issue out of it in light of their own practice of excluding elected members from P5 discussions. In terms of substance, as noted above, most of the proposed new elements build on previously agreed measures or only affect elected members, as is the case with the preparation of new chairs. However, there may be some parts of the current draft that will be resisted. While France and the UK have traditionally been open to changes in working methods aimed at improving transparency, China, Russia and the US have generally been more conservative.