Implementation of Note S/2017/507: Working Methods - Security Council, 8798th Meeting

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16-Jun-2021 01:26:23
Security Council weighs benefits, drawbacks of video-teleconference meetings, other pandemic-era innovations, in annual debate on working methods.

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Members of the Security Council grappled with the efficacy of maintaining international peace and security through meetings held via video-teleconference, and with other new technologies, as the 15-member organ held an open debate today to consider the working methods that have defined its deliberations throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Focusing on the theme “Agility and innovation: Lessons for the future from the COVID-19 pandemic”, speakers weighed the benefits and drawbacks of the innovations adopted over the past extraordinary 15 months, since the Council first began working remotely in March 2020. Among other things, they reflected on the use of informal virtual sessions and the temporary written voting procedure first outlined in a letter from the representative of China in his capacity as Council President for that month (document S/2020/253).

The debate featured three briefers. Loraine Sievers, co-author of the fourth edition of The Procedure of the UN Security Council, pointed out that the most pressing issue facing the Council in 2020 was how to adopt resolutions that could withstand legal scrutiny as the spread of COVID-19 rendered in-person meetings impossible. While the written voting procedure adopted by the Council in March of that year has been “perhaps unduly time-consuming and convoluted”, she said it has met the necessary requirements of legality and verifiability.

Inga Rhonda King (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), speaking in her capacity as Chair of the Informal Working Group on Documentation and other Procedural Questions, said that, over one year into the COVID-19 crisis, the Council’s adapted working methods have allowed it to continue to convene, adopt resolutions and renew mission and sanctions mandates. As ordinary functioning returns, the Council will consider what it has learned about conducting business via video-teleconference. She emphasized, however, that “modern technology can never replace interactive communication and the quality of engagement among Council members in person”.

Karin Landgren, Executive Director of the not-for-profit organization Security Council Report, also underscored the value of face-to-face negotiations, which allow members to explore possible ways forward, deepen personal relationships and develop trust. However, she said digital platforms — which have now been tested for 15 months — can save time and facilitate greater participation. Noting that hybrid working methods that balance the remote with the proximate may be the best way forward, she emphasized that Council members should seriously consider ways to enable procedural votes and field visits in a virtual setting, observing: “The active use of existing tools, and the ready development of new ones, need not end as COVID-19 recedes.”

In the ensuing debate, Council members highlighted both the organ’s ability to maintain business continuity during the pandemic and the need to reflect on that experience to prepare for future challenges. Some said the benefits of holding meetings virtually — including increased participation, inclusion and visibility — should incentivize the organ to treat such meetings as “official”, in order to sidestep procedural issues that have inhibited the organ’s ability to act in recent months. Others objected to this proposal, instead highlighting the necessity of in-person decision-making for prompt, effective crisis response.

The representative of Kenya, also speaking for the other elected members of the Council, stressed the need to “agree on working methods which can withstand pandemics”. The Council should initially agree that meetings conducted via video-teleconference be considered “formal” meetings to which the Provisional Rules of Procedure apply, and conduct field visits virtually when travel is not possible. Spotlighting the Council’s non-representative composition and the chilling effect of the veto power, he called for that power to be used with restraint, especially on actions aimed to prevent or end mass atrocities.

To that end, France’s representative said that his country has proposed the voluntarily suspension of veto use in cases of mass atrocities, in an effort to improve the Council’s efficacy. Warning that convening too many public meetings undermines the Council’s ability to adequately respond to crises, he stressed: “We spend too long presenting our positions, and too little time working on compromises and joint action.” He stated that the Council’s adapted working methods came at a price — deviating from the Rules of Procedure and undermining multilingualism — and that the time has come to stop holding virtual meetings.

The representative of the Russian Federation — whose delegation has been advocating for a return to in-person meetings since July 2020, when health conditions in New York began improving considerably — underscored that virtual meetings cannot be considered “official”. There is no need to institutionalize those temporary measures or adopt hybrid formats, he stressed, as the use of poorly developed initiatives can undermine the Council’s work, which demands rapidity and consensus.

Also speaking were representatives of China, the United Kingdom and the United States.

At the close of the meeting, the representative of Estonia, in his capacity as Council President for June, read a list of those Member States that had submitted written statements for inclusion in the debate. Those were Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Chile, Cyprus, El Salvador, Iran, Italy, Japan, Kuwait and Singapore.

The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 11:30 a.m.

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