I remember back in the day when I use to teach students how to write resolutions. The phrase ‘to remain actively seized of the matter’ was rarely used by delegates, and when it was it stood out as a pretentious add on. Imagine my surprise, when over the course of this past year, every resolution up for debate ended with the seemingly obligatory “actively seized’ phrase.
This phraseology ‘to remain actively seized of the matter’ has been used at the United Nations to clearly delineate the Security Council’s jurisdiction over an issue. This phrase on SC resolutions was meant to be a clear signal to other nations and deliberative bodies (mainly the nosey and less civilized General Assembly) to keep their hands off the issue, the diplomatic equivalent to ‘mind your own business’. The procedural reference to this phrase is laid out in Article 12, Paragraph 1 of the UN Charter.
So why is it that the General Assembly uses this phrase, with MUN delegates eagerly following suit? Can the Security Council really monopolize an issue with the use of this single phrase?
The General Assembly doesn’t think so! Legal scholars and UN precedent has broadened the scope of this term to mean that the General Assembly can take up a specific issue even if the Security Council is seized on it. If the Council is mired in its own internal (P5 inflicted) paralysis and cannot act upon it, the seized issue is up for grabs! This gives the General Assembly the right to take up the issue, staking out its own claim to deal with the matter. Since GA resolutions are non-binding, the added phrase ‘to remain actively seized of the matter’ is somewhat unnecessary. Countries ignore GA resolutions all the time, whether they are actively seized on them or not. It does, however, signal intent and willingness to act.
So when you put that phrase on the end of your resolution, you’ll know where it came from. You can rest easy in the knowledge that your fellow delegates understand that you are claiming ownership and a desire to act on the issue at hand.
By Lisa Martin, Head of THIMUN Qatar
Koerner, Brendon. What is the United Nations Seizing Anyway? Slate. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2003/02/what_is_the_united_nations_seizing_anyway.html. 2003. Hunt, Cameron. The actively seized Security Council. Counter Currents. June 28. http://www.countercurrents.org/hunt200908.htm. 2008.