Back to top
Welcome to the United Nations. It's your world.

United Nations Security Council

Working Methods Handbook

Introduction

On the morning of 27 June 2011, 15 Security Council members seated in the Council Chamber raised their hands in unison to unanimously adopt resolution 1990 (2011) establishing a new mission, the “United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei” (UNISFA), in order to quickly stabilize the situation in the critical border area of the Sudan in light of an agreement signed by the Government of the Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement of South Sudan only days before. Those observing the meeting would have seen that it lasted only five minutes, from 10:40 to 10:45 a.m. Consequently, they might have concluded that adopting such a resolution was a simple matter.

What these observers might have missed, however, were the essential working methods and procedures which guided the members of the Security Council from the moment they first took note of the deterioration of the situation in the Abyei area to their decision to act. During this time, the Council members decided to request both written information from the Secretariat and an oral briefing from a high-ranking official of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations; decided that they would listen to this briefing and respond to it in the format of “closed consultations of the whole” in their specially-designated Consultations Room; pored over a draft resolution proposed by the “lead country” and suggested improvements to the text; prepared the final draft of the resolution for adoption by requesting its translation beforehand into all six official languages of the United Nations; followed the customary practice for announcing the convening of the meeting in the Journal of the United Nations; and finally, after adopting the established agenda formulated for considering matters relating to the Sudan, followed the rules of procedure relating to the conduct of a vote in the Council.

This single example shows that having a range of working methods and procedures available to it is critical in enabling the Security Council to carry out its mandate according to the Charter of the United Nations, and make decisions that ensure prompt and effective action towards the maintenance of international peace and security. At the same time, when such decisions are made by the Security Council, having appropriate working methods and procedures is important in order to ensure the support of the wider United Nations membership.

The Security Council is perhaps best known to the general public as the principal organ responsible under the Charter of the United Nations for the maintenance of international peace and security. In carrying out this critically important mandate, the Security Council, which according to the Charter must be able to meet at any time if circumstances so require, has adopted over 2,000 resolutions relating to conflict and post-conflict situations around the globe. Since 1946, the Council has mandated the deployment of over 60 peacekeeping missions, and current missions are served by nearly 100,000 uniformed personnel. These peacekeeping missions have played an important role in maintaining lines of separation between combatants, facilitating peace agreements, and the protection of civilians. The Security Council has also developed and refined the use of non-military measures including arms embargoes, travel bans, and restrictions to guard against the exploitation of natural resources to fuel conflicts, as well as taking a lead role in the coordination of international counter-terrorism efforts.

The Security Council consists of five permanent members (China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States) and ten non-permanent members who are elected from among the Member States of the United Nations for a two-year term. The United Nations General Assembly holds elections each year, customarily in October, for the five non-permanent members which join the Council the following January as the five outgoing non-permanent members finish their two-year terms at the end of December.

Article 30 of the Charter stipulates that the Security Council shall adopt its own rules of procedure, and in 1946 the Council adopted its Provisional Rules of Procedure (S/96). Subsequently the Provisional Rules of Procedure were modified on several occasions; the last revision was made in 1982 (S/96/Rev.7) in order to add Arabic as the sixth official language, in conformity with General Assembly resolution 35/219 of 17 December 1980.

The Security Council has continued over time to improve its working methods, and to adapt them to changing realities both within the Council itself, and in the wider international context. To keep up with these changing realities, the members of the Council periodically have taken decisions to supplement the Provisional Rules of Procedure of the Security Council through adopting and publishing specific new working methods. Most commonly, the Security Council did so through the adoption of “Notes of the President of the Security Council”, which put into writing practices and agreed measures among Council members to serve as guidance for the Council’s work. These Notes by the President helped clarify the working methods for both Council members and the broader membership of the United Nations. The working methods they set out were intended to enhance the efficiency of the Security Council’s work and make its activities more transparent, as well as to improve interaction and dialogue with non-Council members. Improvements in the working methods have also been considered one of the important issues for Security Council reform.

The Security Council Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions (IWG) is the main forum where the “Notes” have been discussed and decided on by members of the Council. The Working Group was established in June 1993 to enhance and streamline ways and means whereby the Security Council addresses issues related to its documentation and other procedural questions. The Working Group meets as agreed by members of the Council and makes recommendations, proposals and suggestions to the members of the Council concerning the Council's documentation and other procedural questions.

In 2006, the Security Council decided that the Chair of the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions should serve on an annual basis, whereas previously the Informal Working Group had been chaired by each month’s rotating Council President. Under the Chairmanship of Japan, the Informal Working Group undertook to consolidate previous Notes by the President regarding Council practices into a comprehensive Note by the President (S/2006/507), which also contained additional new working methods of the Security Council. Member States referred to it as "Note 507". Following its adoption, Japan put together a handbook of documents relevant to the Security Council’s working methods, including the Note 507, the Provisional Rules of Procedure and some background information on Council meetings, which was distributed to Member States. This 2006 handbook became known as the "Blue Book".

The Council’s working methods continued to evolve. In 2010, again with Japan as the Chair, the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions undertook the task of updating Note 507 to reflect current practices of the Council and to reach agreement on additional working methods. The result was the adoption by the Security Council of a new Note by the President (S/2010/507). This Note incorporated recent practices such as greater interaction with troop-contributing countries to United Nations peacekeeping operations, the Peacebuilding Commission and the parties to a conflict. It also, for the first time, set out practices relating to the planning and conduct of Security Council missions. These are measures that have helped to make the work of the Security Council more effective and also more transparent. Subsequently, Japan issued a new handbook to include the revised Note 507, the Provisional Rules of Procedure, background information on Council meeting formats such as Informal Dialogues, as well as updated tables on rules for attendance of meetings and documentation. This new 2010 handbook has been referred to by some Member States as the "Green Book".

The present publication is based on the handbook issued by Japan. In addition to its usefulness to delegates of Member States and the broader United Nations community, this publication is also intended to serve as a guide for those in the general public who are interested in the United Nations and seek to learn more about how the Security Council operates. It reproduces a selection of relevant Articles of the UN Charter, in order for readers to understand the critically important mandate for the maintenance of international peace and security which the founders of the Organization accorded to the Security Council and which it continues to carry out today. Furthermore, the introduction and glossary will make it easier to understand for those who are not completely familiar with the Security Council and its context. This publication provides a wider readership with access to the same documents that diplomats utilize when familiarizing themselves with the Council’s various meeting formats, rules and practices. This hopefully will further contribute to the understanding of the Security Council and its work.