UN Security Council: Briefings by Chairs of subsidiary bodies of the Security Council
Statement as delivered by Gerard van Bohemen, Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the United Nations, December 19, 2016.
Thank you Mr President.
I welcome this opportunity to discuss this important and often overlooked aspect of the Council’s work: the work of our subsidiary bodies.
As an elected member for the past two years, New Zealand has been an active participant in the subsidiary bodies of the Council, including as chair of the 1267 ISIL/Al-Qaida and 1988 Taliban sanctions committees. And I’ve been honoured to chair those committees.
I have been frank about my experiences as chair, and I will continue in that spirit today, focusing on two working methods areas: the effectiveness of our sanctions committees, and the preparation of and process for appointing chairs. But as a first order of business, I record my thanks and appreciation to the Committees’ Monitoring Team, the Ombudsperson and the Secretariat staff for their hard work and support.
On effectiveness, one thing that has struck me is how little consideration or priority the Council gives to ensuring its sanctions committees are effective. Sanctions are one of the few tools we have, short of force, to respond to situations that threaten international peace and security. Yet the way these committees are established and the procedures under which they operate mean they struggle to discharge their mandates effectively.
First, we silo these bodies away from the Council’s work and from each other. It would seem logical that when there is a country-specific item in our Programme of Work where there is also a sanctions regime, we should discuss the two together and indeed we did that this morning. It would seem sensible that where there is a field mission operating where there is also a sanctions regime, the two would be reinforcing and we would discuss them as such. And it would seem reasonable that when the Council discusses items like the threat from ISIL, we could have the Coordinator of the Monitoring Team in the room to brief us and field questions. Yet, to make any suggestions for improvement in this area very often encounters active resistance, usually from a Permanent Member to any suggestions for improvement.
Secondly, we have allowed the process of these Committees to get in the way of their outcomes. Process is important, but it should not obstruct our primary goal as a Council nor the discharge of our obligations in our Chapter VII resolutions. This is most clearly illustrated by the requirement – I hesitate to call it a rule because it has no basis in the Charter – that any Committee decision, no matter how minor, must be taken by consensus. Ambassador Ramirez referred to this point also in his remarks. What we have done in fact is conferred the right of veto on all Council members and that right extends to all decisions, procedural and substantive no matter how minor. In my opinion, this is the single biggest inhibitor to Committee effectiveness.
Around this table we can share endless examples of this. I will highlight just a few that have arisen in the committees that I have chaired, where the consensus rule has prevented what I consider obviously sensible decisions:
First, we have been unable to update the details of the deceased former Taliban leader on our sanctions list so that we can stop his considerable assets ending up in the hands of the Taliban. I’m deeply concerned that today I’ve learned that the compromise proposal we’ve worked on for so many weeks has been not accepted.
We have been unable to take practical steps to put the office of the Ombudsperson on a more secure and independent footing, despite the clear directions in the resolution adopted last year.
So far, we have been unable to update our Committee’s guidelines to help serve our effective functioning.
And in the course of the last year, we have seen attempts to extend the No Objection Procedure - in other words, the 15 country veto – to even more minor matters including, incredibly, the Chair’s ability to invite Committee members to an informal meeting in my own Mission.
I am yet to hear any convincing reason for the Council’s subsidiary bodies operating under a far more restrictive set of rules than applies to the Council itself under the Charter or under its Provisional Rules of Procedure. This is particularly in view of the reality that it is almost invariably a Permanent Member that uses the No Objection Procedure to block a decision. I’m not cavilling because New Zealand is an elected member while others are permanent. My objection is that this procedure allows members, usually permanent members, to play politics. Either on their own account or on behalf of others to obstruct the effective functioning of a regime which all UN members are required to comply with. This erodes confidence in the sanctions regime and in the Council itself.
On how this Council appoints its chairs, I am pleased that the elected members have worked together to secure improvements to the process this year. No longer is this an intra-P5 decision. It is now a process facilitated by two Council members, including an elected member. No longer will elected members be told which committee they can chair just a few days before they start their Council term, they now have time to prepare for the significant responsibilities of being a subsidiary body chair. That said, there is still room for further improvement in our view.
In closing, I would like to offer five recommendations to the Council:
First, I would urge Council members to think about how we do our business, and the small, practical steps we can do, to be more efficient, avoid duplication and maximise the tools we have. This includes more coherent scheduling of our Council programmes of work and requesting that the Secretary-General report on sanctions in his reports where applicable.
Second, when chairs do brief in closed consultations, we should reconsider the use of formulaic statements approved by the Committee. The substance and utility of our conversations would improve vastly if Chairs were instead able to come with a couple of points for discussion that they have formulated themselves.
Third, we must have a serious conversation about the decision-making of our Committees, with a view to reform.
Fourth, the burden of chairing subsidiary bodies should be spread to all Council members. We are not a Council of 5 or 10, but of 15. Chairing should reflect that.
And fifth, the elected members must continue to support each other as chairs. New Zealand established an informal group of chairing experts that meets semi-regularly, and last week we hosted a workshop on the practicalities of chairing for incoming members. We hope elected members will keep these alive next year.
Mr President, none of these recommendations requires a new resolution or Presidential Statement. They require courage and behavioural change, but I believe the whole Council would be better for it.