The Security Council has primary responsibility, under the Charter,for the maintenance of international peace and security. It is so organized as to be able to function continuously, and a representative of each of its members must be present at all times at United Nations Headquarters. On 31 January 1992, the first ever Summit Meeting of the Council was convened at Headquarters, attended by Heads of State and Government of 13 of its 15 members and by the Ministers for Foreign Affairs of the remaining two. The Council may meet elsewhere than at Headquarters; in 1972, it held a session in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and the following year in Panama City, Panama.
When a complaint concerning a threat to peace is brought before it, the Council’s first action is usually to recommend to the parties to try to reach agreement by peaceful means. In some cases, the Council itself undertakes investigation and mediation. It may appoint special representatives or request the Secretary-General to do so or to use his good offices. It may set forth principles for a peaceful settlement.
When a dispute leads to fighting, the Council’s first concern is to bring it to an end as soon as possible. On many occasions, the Council has issued cease-fire directives which have been instrumental in preventing wider hostilities. It also sends United Nations peace-keeping forces to help reduce tensions in troubled areas, keep opposing forces apart and create conditions of calm in which peaceful settlements may be sought. The Council may decide on enforcement measures, economic sanctions (such as trade embargoes) or collective military action.
A Member State against which preventive or enforcement action has been taken by the Security Council may be suspended from the exercise of the rights and privileges of membership by the General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council. A Member State which has persistently violated the principles of the Charter may be expelled from the United Nations by the Assembly on the Council’s recommendation.
A State which is a Member of the United Nations but not of the Security Council may participate, without a vote, in its discussions when the Council considers that that country’s interests are affected. Both Members of the United Nations and non-members, if they are parties to a dispute being considered by the Council, are invited to take part, without a vote, in the Council’s discussions; the Council sets the conditions for participation by a non-member State.
The Presidency of the Council rotates monthly, according to the English alphabetical listing of its member States.
Functions and Powers
Under the Charter, the functions and powers of the Security Council are:
- to maintain international peace and security in accordance with the principles and purposes of the United Nations;
- to investigate any dispute or situation which mightlead to international friction;
- to recommend methods of adjusting such disputes or the terms of settlement;
- to formulate plans for the establishment of a system to regulate armaments;
- to determine the existence of a threat to the peace or act of aggression and to recommend what action should be taken;
- to call on Members to apply economic sanctions and other measures not involving the use of force to prevent or stop aggression;
- to take military action against an aggressor;
- to recommend the admission of new Members;
- to exercise the trusteeship functions of the United Nations in “strategic areas”;
- to recommend to the GeneralAssembly the appointment of the Secretary-General and, together with the Assembly, to elect the Judges of the International Court of Justice.
Standing Committees — There are three committees at present, and each includes representatives of all Security Council member States.
- Security Council Committee of Experts
- Security Council Committee on Admission of New Members
- Security Council Committee on Council meetings away from Headquarters
Ad Hoc Committees — They are established as needed, comprise all Council members and meet in closed session.
- Governing Council of the United Nations Compensation Commission established by Security Council resolution 692 (1991)
- Committee established pursuant to resolution 1373 (2001) concerning Counter-Terrorism
- Committee established pursuant to resolution 1540 (2004)
- Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1591 (2005) concerning The Sudan
- Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1636 (2005)
- Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1718 (2006)
Terminated Sanctions Committees
- Security Council Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations
- Security Council Ad Hoc Working Group on Conflict Prevention and Resolution in Africa
- Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict
- Security Council Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions
Since 1948 there have been 63 United Nations peace-keeping operations.
- International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia since 1991 – established by S/RES/808 (1993) – International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY);
- International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of Rwanda and Rwandan Citizens Responsible for Genocide and Other Such Violations Committed in the Territory of Neighbouring States between 1 January and 31 December 1994 – established by S/RES/955 (1994).
Sources: Basic Facts About the United Nations, Sales No.E.98.I.20., Press Release GA/9784 (10 Oct. 2000), and the Office of the Director of Security Council Affairs Division, Department of Political Affairs.
Last updated on 8 June 2006