UN Security Council: Debate: Conflict Prevention and the Council's Working Methods
Statement delivered by Gerard van Bohemen, Permanent Representative to the United Nations, 31 August 2016.
Let me begin by congratulating Malaysia and your team, Mr. President, for conducting the Security Council’s work so well during this past month. We want to thank you, Sir, for convening this meeting and for providing a very useful focus for our discussions, including on conflict prevention and on the Council’s working methods. In our view, the Council’s capability to prevent conflict is inherently linked to its methods of work and to the way Council members relate with each other and with the Secretariat. I want to make a couple of points on two related subjects, namely, the importance of timely information from the Secretariat and some observations on confidentiality.
For the Council to act early, it is important that it be aware of the potential threats and security. We need to be well informed of developments where the Council has a mandate to respond. In situations where there are conflicting narratives of developments, the Secretariat has a particularly important role in providing an authoritative account. We saw that last week with the briefing on Western Sahara, which was very useful in providing a clear account of developments on a contentious and sensitive issue. In situations that are developing rapidly, it is vital that all Council members be brought up to speed on the situation on the ground quickly. Otherwise, elected members can be at a significant disadvantage in such matters.
Council members also need to be informed of broader emerging issues and potential crises where a political impasse risks boiling over, or where regional issues threaten to aggravate a fragile peace. We are thankful for the efforts that the Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs has been making in that regard. As Council members, we need to continue to apply political energy and creativity on this issue — one that we are going to take up next month in our presidency of the Council.
The question of the timeliness of information also relates to the reverse issue of confidentiality. During our 20 months on the Council, we have championed the importance of transparency in the Council’s work as an important element of our responsibility to the membership that elected us, and of our own legitimacy, as the Security Council acts on their behalf. But confidentiality is an important counterpoint to transparency. The Secretariat cannot provide frank assessments if they are immediately relayed outside the Consultations Room. The members of the Council cannot have meaningful political-level exchanges when sensitive discussions are repeated verbatim. Ideas cannot be tested and explored and instead become limited to set-piece interventions, safe for public consumption, not the frank exchange that is necessary when dealing with complex and novel issues. In our view, we need to do much better in ensuring that confidentiality is respected as much as appropriate. If the Consultations Room is not private, inevitably discussions will go elsewhere, which is not in anyone’s interests.
We look forward to hearing further from the new Council members on their reflections. I know that I can count on members’ support in the month ahead.