28 March, 2016
Finding and Analyzing UN Security Council Resolutions
with a New Database:
Introducing a Custom Search Tool
by Elisabet Vergara Velasco
When discussing conflict in Africa (or anywhere for that matter), there is an external agent that can’t be ignored: the United Nations Security Council. As established In the UN Charter, the Security Council is conferred with the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security by all United Nations member states. Accordingly, in the exercise of its functions, the Security Council authorizes military interventions, establishes peacekeeping missions, as well as imposing sanctions when it sees fit, among other decisions.
Currently a large portion of the Security Council's work is focused on the African continent. This can be easily illustrated with a few facts: 9 out of 16 peacekeeping operations authorized by the Council are deployed in the African continent, 56% of all the adopted resolutions in 2015 concerned African issues, and 9 out of a total 15 current sanction regimes target Africa.
Nevertheless, in order to assess the response of the Security Council to African problems, there is a need to go deeper than just counting the number of peacekeeping operations or number of total resolutions. For all we know, even if the Security Council authorizes a high number of peacekeeping operations in Africa, the said operations could have low personnel levels, work under weak mandates, or both. Likewise, regardless of the number of resolutions concerning any particular region, the qualitative assessment of such resolutions varies depending on the action taken (if any at all).
Collecting all the necessary data for such assessments, particularly when the process involves first finding, and then examining, dozens if not hundreds of resolutions, is not only time consuming due to the amount of documents, but also as a result of the complex nature of the language used in the resolutions themselves. A practitioner, researcher or student trying to gather information about, and assess, a particular type of decision – resolutions in which any target state was prohibited from importing arms – for example, would have to do a tremendous amount of groundwork, and most likely have previous 'Security Council resolution reading comprehension' training in order to effectively find, extract and classify the needed information.
With a view to providing a long-term solution for this problem, in the form of a custom search tool for researchers and practitioners interested in the work of the Security Council, a team of researchers at Osaka University, Japan, decided to design a database that that allows the user to search and filter UN resolutions based on key pre-identified characteristics about the decisions contained in the resolutions.
The content of each resolution has been categorized according to these pre-identified characteristics, and includes general information about the resolution (such as date, geographical location, the invocation of Chapter VII of the UN Charter), as well as a set of details about each of the following: sanctions, peace operations, non-UN operations/enforcement actions, criminal tribunals, other subsidiary organs, thematic resolutions, membership, and appointments.
When a search is conducted, a list of resolutions that match the search conditions entered will be displayed, and from there, users can view the list of characteristics for each resolution, and/or follow the link to the actual resolution text on the UN website.
Searches can be made based on single or multiple search conditions. A simple search might simply be conducted to find all resolutions adopted regarding Libya, for example. Another single-condition search might simply involve entering a resolution into the 'references (resolution)' field, which would return all resolutions in which that resolution is mentioned. An example of a multiple-condition search would be a search for all resolutions concerning peace operations in Africa between 2000 and 2010 in which more than 5,000 military personnel were authorized. The possibilities are virtually endless.
Furthermore, the database allows the user to download an excel file containing all the information from the results. This enables the users to instantly have in their own computer a set of data as large or small as defined by the initial search. The data can subsequently be reordered and modified at the researcher’s will, allowing endless research possibilities depending on the interest of the user.
The database went online in March 2016, containing data for all UN Security Council resolutions from 2000 to 2015. The database is to be continuously expanded, including both new resolutions as they are adopted, as well as adding past resolutions starting from 1999 backwards. The database is accessible to all and is free of charge.
From one-off searches in order to find a specific resolution to longitudinal studies on particular
(*1) 1990-1999 data was extracted from: Virgil Hawkins (2004), The Silence of the UN Security Council: Conflict and Peace Enforcement in the 1990s, Florence: European Press Academic Publishing.
topics or actions by the Security Council, we believe this database will be a valuable tool for both students and researchers that are trying to better understand the Security Council and assess its response to different situations, but also for practitioners (including UN diplomats) that find themselves in need of finding information on a particular issue/aspect of the work of the Security Council in a quick and effective manner.
An example of the kind of long-term trends that can be identified using the data found in CEAPS' Infographic 4, which looks at the UN Security Council and Africa from 1990-2015(*1).