General Assembly Adopts Oral Decision on Security Council Reform; Debate Continues into the 71st Session

By Phoebe Shambaugh, 30 August 2016

On 27 July, 2016, the General Assembly held a plenary meeting on agenda item 121, or the “Question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council and other matters related to the Security Council.” The oral decision under consideration was the result of the President of the General Assembly’s consultations with Member States regarding the “elements of convergence” text circulated on 12 July, which arose from the Intergovernmental Negotiations during the current session.

The oral decision, which was adopted by acclamation, reaffirmed the role of the General Assembly in deciding the question of representation on the Security Council; decided to continue the IGN process, taking note of the informal meetings and elements of convergence from the 70th session as well as the text and annex circulated in July 2015; and decided to convene an Open Ended Working Group on the subject in the 71st session.

While the text was adopted by consensus, during the explanation of the vote several groups voiced frustration, or at least divergent opinions, about the state of the negotiations process.

The first to speak was Sierra Leone, representing the African Union. While the group was pleased that the consensus decision would roll over the issue into the next session, the AU remained committed to a text-based reform process. In particular, the AU called attention to a letter circulated by the group on 21 July 2016, in response to the elements of convergence on working methods and the size of a reformed Council. As the AU pointed out, the “elements” reflect only two out of five of the issues discussed in the IGN process. As such, it does not adequately reflect the record of the IGN in the 70th session, as there was substantial agreement and discussion of the other three issues which was not represented in the elements of convergence text. The AU called for a democratic, transparent, and accountable process, and for text-based negotiations to make the UN ‘fit for purpose.’

Brazil, in its capacity as representative of the G4, called for the start of text-based negotiations to give the IGN substantive meaning. The G4 appreciated the elements of conversion text, which served to identify trends and move towards consensus, even if the text does not reflect all G4 positions. However, the Group was disappointed that there was not convergence on the other three issues. The G4 noted that they had hoped to begin concrete negotiations during the 70th session, arguing that the longer Security Council reform is postponed, the greater the discredit to the UN. The status quo is no longer an option, and there is a recognized need for a strong multilateral system. Brazil cited the major agreements reached over the last years—the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Climate Agreement, among others, but noted that the realm of peace and security is noticeably lacking in progress and reform. Brazil concluded its statement with a reminder of the need for a ‘UN fit for purpose on peace and security, in a discrete timeframe.’

Brazil was followed by Italy, speaking for the United for Consensus group (UfC). UfC applauded the technical rollover, which paved the way for continued discussion aiming for a broad consensus. It noted that the IGN is a member-driven process, that all sessions and meetings have been important for movement towards consensus, and that the points of convergence submitted by the facilitator reflect UfC’s understanding of the areas of convergence. UfC further called for flexibility and compromise on the remaining issues, in order to lead to a broad consensus decision in the future.

Nicaragua spoke next, representing the L69 group of developing countries. The group was pleased that the framework and annexes, submitted in 2015, would remain central to the IGN’s work moving forward. The L69 argued that text-based negotiations would be vital, and should be conducted on the basis of the framework text, especially on the other three key issues for reform. In closing, the group hoped that the 71st session would lead to more concrete progress.

Kuwait, representing the Arab States, reaffirmed the desire for a broad decision and for continuing IGN debates in the 71st session. The group hoped for consensus, in order to lead to true and comprehensive reform.

Guyana, speaking for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), welcomed the rollover, and called for further work and reflection on Member State proposals when considering the achievements of the IGN in the 70th session, as well as the framework and annexes. CARICOM called the progress made important, though limited, and hoped that the text and elements of convergence would be a foundation for reform work in the 71st session.

China welcomed the rollover, and called for the next session to uphold the leadership of the UN and Member States, and reflect all the views of participants. Russia welcomed the rollover as well, noting that consensus adoption was good, but that there was far from universal agreement in the negotiations. Russia asked that reforms be adopted with more than a two-thirds majority, though ideally through consensus, and ended with a call for a transparent and inclusive process without artificially imposed timelines.

Lastly, the Permanent Representative of Luxembourg, Ambassador Sylvie Lucas, spoke in her role as the Chair of the IGN this session. She thanked those who participated and engaged in the process, and who had looked for points of convergence. She noted that the elements of convergence addressed only two lines of inquiry, but that reform must be comprehensive and include all five key issues. She reminded the plenary that if members listen and engage in good faith, reform and consensus is possible. She finished with a reminder that now, more than ever, accountability is vital for the UN.

To watch complete video of the plenary meeting, click here.