posted on Thu 26 Mar 2020 1:50 PM
“Technical Rollovers” of Security Council mandates

In the upcoming period, several Security Council mandates will expire. These include the mandates of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia and of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, expiring on 31 March and 24 April respectively, while other authorisations expiring in the coming weeks include the AU Mission in Somalia, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq and the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei.

The Council will need to act in order to secure the continuation of these operations and panels of experts. The measures being taken to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the exclusive use of videoconferencing for briefings, are likely to hamper Council members’ ability to conduct sensitive negotiations, at least in the short term. In this context, it may be useful to take a look at Council’s practice of “technical rollovers” of mandates, as the Council may use this approach more frequently in the foreseeable future.

As with many Council working methods where a practice exists long before it is described and defined, there appears to be no definition of “technical rollover”. The most recent compendium of working methods, the 2017 Note 507 (S/2017/507), is the first to include the term, in a working methods note by the president, where it is mentioned in the context of negotiating outcomes. In its paragraph 81 the note says: “[F]or each draft resolution which is not a technical rollover … the members of the Security Council encourage the penholder or co-penholders to present and discuss the draft with all members of the Security Council in at least one round of informal consultations or informal-informals”. This language addressed the concerns of elected members, in particular, at being bypassed until a very late stage in the negotiation of some resolutions.

The term “technical rollover” is rarely found in UN documents. In practice, it appears to have been used principally where two elements are present: extension for a limited duration, and with largely unchanged mandate content.  The term has also been used more liberally in respect of mandate extensions for the customary period, where the content is also largely maintained. The Council may find this modality useful during the most intensive period of COVID-19, while recognising that short extensions can present field operations with significant administrative difficulty.

Notwithstanding their imprecise definition, technical rollovers have been used for various purposes. A technical rollover was used to delay the downsizing of a mission during a crisis, for example. At the height of West Africa Ebola epidemic, the Secretary-General wrote in his 28 August 2014 letter to the president of the Security Council regarding the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL): “Given the exceptional circumstances described above, I am recommending a technical rollover of the mandate of UNMIL for a period of three months” (S/2014/644). Just prior to UNMIL’s mandate expiry, on 15 September the Council adopted resolution 2176 endorsing the Secretary-General’s recommendations and renewing the mandate until 31 December while also deferring consideration of previously planned mandate adjustments.

In other cases, technical rollovers have been used during difficult negotiation processes to buy time in an effort to enable Council members to reach agreement on a text.  On 15 December 2016, the mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan was renewed for a single day, when members disagreed on elements of the text. On the following day, the Council adopted resolution 2327, unanimously renewing the mandate for one year.  On 15 March 2019, the mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) was rolled over for six months (the mandate is typically one year) in a highly condensed form, due to difficulties in agreeing to language on regional cooperation.  Even when the UNAMA mandate was renewed for twelve months in September 2019, some diplomats called this, too, a “technical rollover”, perhaps to smooth over the difficult negotiations and compromises that they had just come through.

Short rollovers have also been used as a way of applying political pressure. This was the case, for example, with Côte d’Ivoire until 2011. Having established the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) through resolution 1528 (2004), the Council extended it by just one month through resolution 1594 of 4 April 2005, in order to put pressure on the parties to finalise a peace agreement. In addition, the Council, having established the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), for a period of 12 months by resolution 1740 (2007), subsequently extended UNMIN in six-month increments through 23 January 2010, and then in four-month increments until the mission ceased operations on 15 January 2011, having emphasised their intention that this special political mission be of limited scope and duration.

Technical rollovers are sometimes employed when the Council needs more time to make a decision. The 9 October 2008 resolution (1839) extending the mandate of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) until 15 February 2009 “took note” of the 3 October report of the Secretary-General, in which he recommended that the Council “extend the mandate of the Mission on a technical basis for a period of four months”. This was the first of three UNOMIG technical rollover, all aimed at giving members more time to negotiate the mandate of a future mission.

The 2018 and 2019 renewals of the mandate of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia have loosely been considered as rollovers, despite being for the customary period of one year.  The mission’s original mandate was established in accordance with the 2016 peace agreement between the government of Colombia and the rebel group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP), in which the parties, recognising the importance of having an international component to the verification process, decided to request the UN to set up a political mission. Because of the mandate’s origin in the peace agreement, the Council chose to leave it unchanged during the three-year period stipulated by the accord.

Perhaps the closest situation to the one the Council is facing today occurred at the end of October 2012. The Council met on 31 October following the shutdown of the UN for three days following Hurricane Sandy and in resolution 2072 rolled over the mandate of the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) until 11 November, noting the exceptional circumstances in New York City arising from the hurricane and “recognizing in those exceptional circumstances, the need for a short extension of the mandate” of AMISOM.

Technical rollovers that may occur during the current pandemic would be an unusual, and perhaps unprecedented, case where the challenges pertain to the Council’s own working methods. The experience of COVID-19 may suggest the need for the Council, and the UN Secretariat, to agree on appropriate teleworking arrangements, as well as a robust repertoire of effective and transparent working methods for situations when physical meetings are temporarily excluded.