NEW YORK, 29 OCTOBER 1997
STATEMENT BY AMBASSADOR ANTÓNIO MONTEIRO, PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE OF PORTUGAL, TO THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY 52nd SESSION (Agenda item: report of the Security Council)
The President of the Security Council, Ambassador Somavía, has already outlined the main elements in the present report of the Council and has pointed out relevant questions addressed during the period under consideration regarding the improvement of the methods of work of the Council.
Portugal welcomes the decision taken by the Council as a result of which, starting next year, a new type of annual report from the Security Council will be submitted to the General Assembly. The new type of report will include a more user-friendly analytical description of the Council's work, and brief monthly assessments by former Presidents of the Council will be attached to the report as an addendum.
My delegation is pleased to have contributed to this outcome of the discussions entered into by Council members this year in the informal working group on documentation and procedural questions. We believe that this is not only a serious response from the Council to the specific measures requested by General Assembly resolution 51/193, but also a positive step towards enhancing the transparency of the Council.
This is a dynamic evolutionary process, and more can certainly be done. For example, since last year the annual report has contained references to the activities of the sanctions committees. It seems reasonable, therefore, to expect the reports of these committees to be attached to the annual report of the Security Council.
As Portugal has been a member of the Council since January, my delegation is now in a position to consider the practice of the Council from an inside perspective and has submitted to Council members a number of its own observations for discussion. One concerns the manner in which the decision-making process of the Council is presently developed in informal meetings, the so-called consultations of the whole. In our experience, the prevalence of informal consultations has not brought substantial gains in expediting the Council's work or making it more efficient. Rather, it has made the Council less transparent and has widened the gap between the Council and the rest of the membership.
Informal consultations can and should take place whenever necessary to assist members in the consideration of certain matters, as occurs in any other United Nations body. But they should not systematically replace regular formal sessions of the Council, at which members should state their views on the matters under consideration and hear other United Nations Members, if the Council so decides. On the other hand, according to the Charter and the existing provisional rules of procedure, the Council can always meet in private formal sessions whenever confidentiality is required. Clearly, in this matter, a balance must be found.
In fact, the main distinctive element that distinguishes formal meetings from informal consultations of the whole is the fact that in the latter there are no written records. We believe that dispensing with written records, which is currently the established practice because most of the work is conducted in informal meetings, does not contribute to the enhancement of the credibility of the Council. Records not only promote the consistency of Security Council decisions, but also assert the responsibility of each member, thus ensuring their accountability before the entire United Nations membership.
Formal sessions, public or private, with written records, will improve transparency. According to the Charter, all United Nations Members are entitled to follow closely the Council's activities. Not only should they be able to obtain information directly by attending regular formal sessions, but they should also have access to reliable written records, including those of sessions held in private, if their particular interest is recognized by the Council.
In our view, the current practice by which non-members of the Council gather information at the end of consultations of the whole is most improper. Information can be easily manipulated or is one-sided. Unfortunately, a majority of United Nations Members choose this way of gathering information, instead of attending the presidency's daily briefings, which should be truly informative.
Another way to increase the contribution of the entire United Nations membership to the activities and decisions of the Council, as other delegations have stressed, would be to ensure active participation by troop-contributing countries in the decision-making phase of the Council's deliberations regarding peacekeeping or peace-enforcement operations. We are not alone in our dissatisfaction with the manner in which meetings of troop-contributing countries are now conducted.
One other related aspect, which my delegation has also brought to the attention of the Council and which is currently under discussion in the informal working group on documentation and procedural questions, concerns the use or rather, the misuse that has been made of the so-called Arria formula meetings.
We realize that, somehow, inaccurate ideas have spread among the United Nations membership, even among Council members, on this extremely useful mechanism. The value of the Arria formula meetings lies precisely in the informal and flexible manner of channelling information and input from essentially non-State actors directly into the Council. The most authoritative source on this formula for meetings its creator, Ambassador Diego Arria confirmed recently to Council members, at an Arria-style meeting organized by Portugal, that this was what the formula was designed for, starting with guests such as a Bosnian priest, a British parliamentarian on the situation of the Iraqi marsh population, and a representative of the non-governmental organization Africa Watch.
Yet in the lists of Arria formula meetings, which we were able to trace back to 1993, when they started, we find at least 10 heads of state and government and over 15 ministers among them. That means that almost 60 per cent of all guests, so far, have been representatives of States or Governments. Did they all prefer the Arria formula, knowing that there would be no written records? Were they fully aware of the implications of that informal format? Why were they not accorded formal meetings of the Council, as provided for by Articles 31 and 32 of the Charter and rules 37 and 38 of the provisional rules of procedure?
We will be pleased to share with interested delegations a paper with more detailed Portuguese views on the use and merits of the Arria formula, which we find to be a tool with extraordinary potential. Here, I would just like to stress that we believe that Arria-style meetings should be used whenever there is a need to preserve informality. They are informal by nature. We should not, therefore, attempt to create norms to regulate them. They have their own function within the informal activities of Security Council members. But, their use should not preclude the utilization of other formal mechanisms provided for by the Charter and the provisional rules of procedure.
As a non-permanent member of the Security Council, Portugal shares with the majority of United Nations Members a particular concern with the transparency of the Council. Indeed, in this respect, our experience in the Security Council since last January has led us to conclude how crucial it is to promote a serious review of the working methods of the Council if we really wish to strengthen its transparency, credibility and efficiency. This is particularly decisive at a moment when the enlargement of the Security Council is very much on the agenda of the global reform of the United Nations. Let us not have any illusions: if its methods of work remain the same, the Council's enlargement will not, by itself, bring about a more efficient, accountable and credible organ.