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At UN, SC Meets in Secret on Transparency, Down Closed Hall, Concept Paper Here

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 23 -- On Monday the UN Security Council Permanent Members met in their consultations room about transparency. Inner City Press later obtained from an unnamed source the underlying Concept Paper, which it puts online below.

  On Friday the Council's Committee on Working Methods took up the topic again, this time amid in the North Lawn building amid even greater secrecy.

  Inner City Press stood in the hall outside Conference Room 7, as media often do. A non-Council diplomat told Inner City Press, "Transparency and the Security Council? Give me a break."

  The Council's substantive work of the day was the negotiation of a long-stalled Presidential Statement about the Sahel, unblocked in light of the coup d'etat in Mali. (Our next articles is on that.)

 On March 22 Inner City Press asked Council president Mark Lyall Grant about the stalled Sahel statement and was told that political coordinators would meet on Friday at 10:30. But it was not at the Council, and only at 3 pm was it learned that a draft of the Sahel would go now go "under silence."

  Non-Permanent members of the Council were mostly represented on Working Methods by their Political Coordinators; the Permanent Five at a lower level. The UK and France, for example, were represented by the diplomats who represented them during the recent meetings of the International Criminal Court state parties. Friday after France's Beatrice Le Fraper du Hellen walked in, soon Inner City Press was told to leave even the hallway. So much for transparency.

The Press' ability to cover UN meeting should not depend so much on in which UN building the hosts choose to hold the meeting. This is similar to the meeting in UN-rented 380 Madison Avenue of the UN Senior Advisory Group on Peacekeeping Operations, including Sri Lankan General Shavendra Silva whose Division 58 is depicted in the UN's own Panel of Experts report as engaged in war crimes.

  When Inner City Press covered it as it would in the UN, Sri Lanka got UN Security to throw Inner City Press. Now the North Lawn building is said to have secret corridors, and the Council tries to meet in them.

And so we have the Concept Paper, which invited comment on among other things a proposal to not have Ambassadorial level meetings on, "say," Friday afternoons:

The Council is allotted five full conference days per week but, on average, our figures indicate that only around half of these allotted conference resources are used. Just under half of the unused resources can be re-allocated within the UN system, but around a tbird of the overall allotted time is not utilized. While maintaining the capacity to meet at any time and at short notice should the need arise, we believe there is a case for the Council agreeing to a practice that it should not meet, say, on Friday afternoons (other than when urgently necessary). Providing this level of clarity to the Secretariat would enable them to adjust their planning so that the level of unused resources would be sharply reduced. Our estimates indicate that this modest reform would save several million dollars. Additionally, we think that we should look at redeploying some of the time from the Council itself to subsidiary organs, whose number and frequency of meeting have increased in recent years.

Periodicity. Recently steps have been taken to reduce the number of mandate renewals concentrated disproportionately at a few points in the year (notably June and December). However more can be done to avoid spikes in the work of the Council with consequences for the workload of the Secretariat and all Missions of Council members. We believe that recent planning documents from the Secretariat (see Secretariat Note of 1 March 2012) demonstrate that there is scope for the Council to spread its workload more evenly throughout the year by adjusting mandate renewal periods and reporting requirements so that these are not concentrated at particular points. There is also scope to align related reporting requirements (e.g. of mission reports and sanctions committee reports concerning the same country) so that Council consideration of related items could easily be "clustered" into a single thematically consistent session.

Interactivity, We welcome the greater level of interactivity achieved in recent months through, for example, less recourse to speakers' lists for consultations, more informality of discussion, through regular horizon-scanning sessions and through the judicious use of videoconferencing technology wherever appropriate and practically feasible (which increased from 3 uses in 2010 to 28 in 2011). Our view is that this leads to more productive and stimulating exchanges and generates purposeful debate. We believe that we should actively explore further such changes.

  And so ostensibly to discuss reform, and greater openness in publishing the full year's schedule on the Council's website, the Council meet Friday in a closed door down a hallway some wanted the Press out of. We'll have more on this.

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Click here for Sept 26, 2011 New Yorker on Inner City Press at UN

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