Switzerland Withdraws Draft Resolution in General Assembly Aimed at Improving Security Council’s Working Methods to Avoid ‘Politically Complex’ Wrangling

16 May 2012
General AssemblyGA/11234
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-sixth General Assembly


108th Meeting (AM)

Switzerland Withdraws Draft Resolution in General Assembly Aimed at Improving

Security Council’s Working Methods to Avoid ‘Politically Complex’ Wrangling


The United Nations General Assembly today narrowly avoided an “intense, politically complex” procedural floor battle after the Swiss Ambassador withdrew a contentious draft resolution, sponsored by “small” countries, containing a set of recommendations for making the Security Council more transparent and accountable.

“If common sense is indeed the common denominator of this Assembly, then this resolution would pass with ease,” said Paul Seger, as he first introduced, and then withdrew, a draft text on “enhancing the accountability, transparency and effectiveness of the Security Council” (document A/66/L.42/Rev.2), on behalf of the members of the Small Five group (S-5), which, along with Switzerland, included Costa Rica, Jordan, Liechtenstein, and Singapore.

But the sponsors of the draft, which focused on improving the Security Council’s working methods and included an annex with 20 recommendations, had come under increasing pressure in the run-up to today’s meeting. Mr. Seger said the Council’s powerful five veto-wielding permanent members — China, France, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and the United States — feared that the proposals could be “divisive or be used against them”. 

Among others, the text recommended that the permanent five Council members refrain from use of their vetoes to block action aimed at preventing or ending genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.  More broadly, it recommended giving the General Assembly a greater role in selecting the Secretary-General, informing Member States more fully about the planning of peacekeeping operations and special political missions, and improving due process in sanctions lists.

The aim of the draft was not cause for the fears expressed by the permanent five, he said, stressing that the small countries wanted the Council and the General Assembly to work more closely with — not against — each other.  “Like most of you, we are small and we want a stronger United Nations,” he told the Assembly, adding that the only failure was in not trying, and the S-5 had tried to present a set of recommendations that would, hopefully, “help the United Nations work a little bit better”.

The Council’s decisions affected all Member States, he continued, wondering aloud:  “Is it, therefore, too much to ask to be better informed about [its] decision-making?”  The recommendations were a “win-win”, and would lead to better interaction between the Council and other bodies, and enhance its work.  The recommendations would also help ensure that the Council’s decisions were better understood, thus garnering more political support for their implementation.

Even though the S-5 had assured delegations that the draft was “not revolutionary”, Member States had informed them that, despite their support for improving the Council’s working methods, they were not ready to act.  The S-5 was aware that pressure from some countries and the threat of legal manoeuvres “has created a sense of unease”.  Faced with the prospect of procedural wrangling that would “engulf the entire Membership and leave everyone confused”, he said the S-5 had decided to withdraw the text.

Mr. Seger nevertheless encouraged Member States to read carefully through the draft, saying that it should be clear to all that the Small Five was “only recommending a limited number of pragmatic steps for consideration, not embarking on comprehensive reform”.  Legal discussions of the past days had been “complex and confusing”, but the draft had no Charter implications, he said, assuaging fears that it aimed to open up the issue of revamping the Council’s membership.

“The Charter is left completely untouched.  Let’s take one step at a time,” he said, encouraging measures that fixed the Council’s methods of work, “as that body stood today in its present composition”.  Reforming the Council’s composition was a work in progress, “or work without progress”, he added, referring to the decades-long deadlock between the Council and the Assembly over that issue.

The Small Five was surprised by how such a simple resolution could evoke such emotions; but it seemed the membership was not ready to act.  Though the group was somewhat disappointed, “success is measured by how you cope with disappointment”.  The delegation would hold the permanent five Council members to their promise to consider the proposals.  The S-5 would also remain in contact with those other Member States that had expressed support for the draft, and if they saw any significant movement in the coming weeks, would return to the matter. 

The issue remained vitally important, he said, because political leaders at the General Assembly’s 2005 World Summit had been united when they had all agreed to consider measures on improving the Security Council’s working methods as a way to enhance its accountability and increase transparency of its work.  The draft under consideration today aimed to start a process, so “that solemn pledge is not a mere phrase but a substantive commitment”.

He asked:  “Have you ever wondered, as a neighbour of a region in crisis, what the Security Council is discussing?”; “as a troop- or police-contributing country, have you ever hoped for more substantive information about a peacekeeping mission the Council was considering because the young men and women your Government was sending would be risking their lives?”; “as members of the Peacebuilding Commission, have you ever wondered how your work could be enhanced through closer consultations with the Council?”.  If the answer to any of those questions was yes, he said, then “you should support this resolution to make the Security Council’s work more transparent and accountable”.

He noted that the Charter provided that the General Assembly might make recommendations to the Council, and it was in that spirit that the Small Five had submitted the text.  The language was respectful of the roles of both bodies and recognized the Council as “master of its own procedures”.  It also acknowledged the effort already undertaken to improve the Council’s working methods.

At the same time, the Small Five was convinced that efforts to improve the Council’s working methods from within would benefit from a clear statement of political support for such change from without.  Over the past few weeks, the Small Five had found that nearly all Member States had reacted positively to the contents of the draft.  The delegation was aware that improving the working methods was part of comprehensive Council reform, which the General Assembly had been discussing for years.  He emphasized, however, that progress on working methods was different; a dynamic process, to be sure, but unlike changing the Council’s size and composition, not one that would require Charter amendments.

Like Switzerland, he said, the overwhelming majority of Member States were small or medium-sized, and, owing to the Council’s rotation procedure for non-permanent members, would rarely serve on that body.  So reforming working methods would have more impact on those States than reform of its numbers.  He reiterated that the draft contained fairly simple recommendations on improving the Council’s relationship with the General Assembly and other major United Nations organs.

In other business today, the Assembly decided to appoint Susan McLurg (United States) to fill a vacancy on the Committee on Contributions, which had resulted from the resignation of Lisa P. Spratt (United States) (see document A/66/540/Add.2).  Ms. McLurg was appointed to fill the post for the remainder of Ms. Spratt’s term, which was slated to expire on 31 December 2012.

The Assembly also decided to appoint Sergei V. Garmonin (Russian Federation) to fill a vacancy on the International Civil Service Commission, which had resulted from the resignation of Yevgeny Vladimirovich Afanasiev (Russian Federation) (see document A/66/746/Add.1). Mr. Garmonin’s term was slated to begin on 1 June and end on 31 December 2012.

Also today, the Assembly decided to accredit the intergovernmental organizations identified in the note by the Secretariat (document A/66/749) and invite them to participate in the work of the Preparatory Committee of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (“Rio+20”), with observer status.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.