A Year of Hybrid Work and Gradual Return to the Security Council Chamber

As it did with practically all national and international institutions, the COVID-19 pandemic upended the well-established practices and venerable traditions of the UN’s most powerful body, the Security Council. The latest Highlights of Security Council Practice chronicles how the Council continued to adapt to the biggest global health crisis in living memory and reviews a challenging year in international peace and security.

The UN’s Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs has just-released the 2021 Highlights of Security Council Practice, a snapshot of the most significant developments relating to the activities of the Council and its subsidiary bodies, including its sanctions committees. As the publication recalls, the Council, faced with the continued challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, ensured the continuity of its work by using hybrid model, alternating videoconferences with in-person meeting. During the first six months of the year, an average of 82% of Council discussions were held virtually. As the situation improved in New York, the Council was able to gradually return to its emblematic Chamber at UN Headquarters. From June to December, the number of virtual sessions fell to an average of 1%.

In October 2021, Council members undertook their first field visit since the outbreak of the pandemic, traveling to Mali and Niger. The year also saw the Council progressively return to pre-pandemic patterns of activity, overcoming some of the difficulties faced in 2020. It held 164 meetings and 147 videoconferences. It adopted 57 resolutions, issued 24 presidential statements and considered 45 agenda items.

In 2021, the Council unanimously adopted several landmark decisions: resolution 2565 (2021), calling for the strengthening of national and multilateral approaches and international cooperation, such as the COVAX facility, for increased COVID-19 vaccine access; resolution 2573 (2021), strongly condemning attacks in situations of armed conflict directed against civilians or civilian objects as flagrant violations of international humanitarian law; and resolution 2601 (2021), calling on all parties to safeguard, protect, respect, and promote the right to education, including in armed conflict, and reaffirming its contribution to the achievement of peace and security.

Asha A. Siyad, Executive Director of Somali Women’s Leadership Initiative, addresses the Security Council meeting on the situation in Somalia. New York, 17 November 2021. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

2021 was also marked by positive trends, the Highlights Paper reports. There was a significant increase of high-level engagement at meetings and videoconferences facilitated by remote connections to Heads of State and Government. The Council also observed an increase with respect to 2020 in the participation of civil society briefers and a notable increase of female representatives of civil society organizations speaking at meetings and videoconferences of the Council. Equally, the Council continued to witness the increasing coalescing of Council members around policy goals, regions and thematic items, most prominently in connection with the Women and Peace and Security agenda. Despite important disagreements, the Council recorded a 7% increase in unanimity of the adoption of resolutions with respect to the year 2020. In this regard, the Council was able to adopt unanimously resolution 2585 (2021), extending the cross-border mechanism for the provision of humanitarian aid into Syria (the first unanimous vote since the adoption of resolution 2165 (2014)).

In 2021, the Council extended the mandates of nine peacekeeping operations (in Western Sahara (MINURSO), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), Abyei (UNISFA), South Sudan (UNMISS), Mali (MINUSMA), Cyprus (UNFICYP), the Golan (UNDOF) and Lebanon (UNIFIL)), as well as nine special political missions (in Central Africa (UNOCA), Libya (UNSMIL), Somalia (UNSOM), Sudan (UNITAMS), the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, Haiti (BINUH), Afghanistan (UNAMA), Iraq (UNAMI) and in Hudaydah (UNMHA)). No mission was terminated nor new one established.

At the end of 2021, among the ten elected members, Estonia, Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia, and Viet Nam successfully completed their two-year tenure. Albania, Brazil, Gabon, Ghana, and the United Arab Emirates joined on 1 January 2022.

The Highlights Paper has been published every year since 2011 by the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs’ (DPPA) Security Council Affairs Division (SCAD). The 2021 edition builds on the revamped version launched in 2019, using a new platform with visually engaging data and interactive maps and graphs.

SCAD is committed to bringing innovation to the Council’s functioning in line with the goals of the Secretary-General’s Data and New Technologies Strategies and makes available a wealth of data and information concerning the work of the Council on a wide range of issues including its past and current practice, working methods, sanctions measures and bodies, mandates of existing peacekeeping and special political missions as well as on the current and upcoming programme of work of the Council on the Council’s website. SCAD also regularly prepares analytical information relating to the Council’s work.