Estonia in the Security Council: the first year

The year 2020 has been like no other in diplomacy and during this unusual year, Estonia joined the UN Security Council for the first time. As an elected member, Estonia has been at the centre of crisis diplomacy, keeping the focus on violations of international law and supporting international justice. We have brought the topic of cybersecurity to the Security Council table and kept the security issues of our region in global focus. 

 The year in numbers

  • Estonia has convened 7 informal Security Council meetings, six of them via video.
  • The team has attended 425 meetings in total this year.
  • The Security Council adopted 58 resolutions in total this year.
  • The Security Council jointly negotiated 45 press statements.
  • With like-minded countries, we have composed and made 31 joint press statements.
  • Estonia’s Permanent Mission to the UN in New York has a staff of 22 with additional support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tallinn.

Main accomplishments

We have successfully kept the focus on security issues of Europe.

  • At two formal meetings, we discussed events in Belarus and at the informal meeting of 4 September, we gave the floor to the people of Belarus, focusing mostly on the human rights situation in Belarus, and inviting Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya to speak. The meeting was a success and was viewed nearly 50 000 times on social media.
  • In March, we convened an informal meeting on Crimea, and in August, we raised Russia’s actions against Georgia, recalling the 12th anniversary of the start of Russia’s aggression in Georgia. In November, the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh emerged and we managed to address the question promptly with European countries at the Security Council after an escalation of the situation on the ground.

We were trailblazers in the era of virtual sessions.

  • We were quick to adapt to the crisis and set a new standard for organising virtual sessions. The excellent technical quality of special events organised by Estonia has solidified Estonia’s reputation as a leading digital state in the world. We also contributed to making the work of the UN Security Council more transparent – we often invited the entire family of UN member states to attend our sessions and made sure the sessions could be watched live and were available for watching later.
  • We have contributed to the success of Estonian companies – thanks to us, our partner for holding virtual sessions, the Estonian company Global Virtual Solutions won a UN tender and has cooperated with the UN representations of other countries.

We have maintained the close cooperation of European countries in the Security Council.

  • The presidencies of Belgium, Estonia, France and Germany were dubbed the European Spring in the Security Council. Joint statements have also been a good way of sending out a message and reaching the parties of conflicts. In February, when Estonia headed EU cooperation, EU countries at the Security Council made a record number of statements.

We have raised awareness of emerging threats, including in cyberspace.

  • Estonia’s ambition was to hold discussions among Security Council members over cybersecurity to arrive at the common understanding that international law also applies in cyberspace.
  • At a Security Council meeting in March, Estonia together with the United States and the United Kingdom officially raised the cyberattacks against Georgia in October 2019. It was the first time specific cyberattacks were officially discussed at the Security Council.
  • We were also pioneers with our informal meeting on 22 May: the Security Council had previously not discussed the stability of cyberspace as a separate subject. The main takeaway of the meeting was the conviction of Estonia and many other countries that cyberspace was not different from other domains where international law is applied.

Estonia`s presidency in May 2020

In May 2020, Estonia held its first presidency of the UN Security Council. Our presidency took place during a crisis. The pandemic has put people in crisis areas in a particularly vulnerable position. Already fragile societies, peacekeeping missions and humanitarian workers are under increased pressure. The UN Security Council, which handles these issues, is working remotely and for the first time in history, meetings are held by video.

Estonia highlighted several issues through various thematic sessions in line with Estonia’s priorities as an elected member: European security, cybersecurity, the protection of the civilian population and the working methods of the Security Council [during the crisis].

 Main sessions initiated by Estonia

Friday 6 March

Informal meeting on the human rights situation in Crimea

It was the first and sadly the last physical meeting in New York in 2020 organised by Estonia. The meeting marked six years since the start of the temporary occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. The event was co-organised by Belgium, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and Ukraine. The informal meeting also included presentations by Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights at the UN Human Rights Office in New York, Anton Korynevych, Permanent Representative of the President of Ukraine in Crimea, Refat Çubarov, Chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, and Olga Skrypnyk, Head of the Crimean Human Rights Group. Members of the UN Security Council and other UN member states also made statements. The meeting was chaired by Paul Teesalu, Undersecretary for Political Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia.

Friday 8 May

High-level video meeting ‘75 Years since the end of the Second World War in Europe: lessons for the prevention of international crimes in the future, the responsibility of the Security Council`

The high-level discussion, the first major event of the Estonian Presidency, aimed at remembering the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War on European soil. The event included talks on the lessons of the post-war world order as well as future challenges. Discussions also covered the current security situation and conflicts in Europe. The Arria-formula meeting was chaired and opened by Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu. Opening statements were made by High Representative of the European Union Josep Borrell, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo and Professor of History at Yale University Timothy Snyder. Nearly 80 countries attended, more than half of which were represented at ministerial level.

Friday 22 May

Informal meeting on cyberstability and conflict prevention 

The meeting focused on conflict prevention, and ensuring a stable and peaceful cyberspace. The focus of the meeting was on raising the awareness of members of the UN Security Council about cyber threats against international peace and security, and the mechanisms supporting and regulating responsible state behaviour on the global, regional and national level. The meeting allowed states to share their experiences on the application of international law and cyber norms in cyberspace, on which regional cooperation formats have been successful in ensuring cyberstability, and on identifying shortcomings in dealing with cyber threats. Prime Minister Jüri Ratas made an opening statement. Speakers included the UN High Representative for Disarmament Izumi Nakamitsu, Chief Executive of the Cybersecurity Agency of Singapore David Koh and Director for Technology Policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies James Lewis. Nearly 60 countries and organisations from across the world took part in the event.

  • The event is available for watching on the Foreign Ministry’s YouTube and Facebook channels.

Wednesday 27 May

High-level discussion on the protection of civilians in armed conflicts

The main objective of the meeting was to discuss the Secretary-General’s annual report on the protection of civilians in armed conflicts. In line with Estonia’s priorities, the discussions focused on compliance with international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights norms, as well as new threats, such as the impact of COVID-19. Briefers: Secretary-General of the UN António Guterres, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross Peter Maurer and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ellen Johnson SirleafPresident Kersti Kaljulaid made the Estonian national statement.

Thursday 28 May

Video meeting on the UN’s cooperation with the European Union

The meeting covered the cooperation of the UN and the European Union, presented the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union and looked at current crises that both the EU and the UN were helping to resolve. In recent years, cooperation between the two organisations in peace missions and crisis management has become increasingly important. The European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell briefed the Security Council. Estonia’s national statement was made by Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu.

Friday 4 September

Video meeting on human rights in Belarus

Estonia considers it important to give a forum to those who are being silenced and decided to convene a virtual meeting of the Security Council to discuss Belarus. An overview of the state of human rights in Belarus was given via video link by Anaïs Marin, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Belarusian opposition presidential candidate, Valiantsin Stefanovic, Vice-Chairman of the Viasna Human Rights Center, and Volha Siakhovich, Legal Expert for the Belarusian Association of Journalists. The meeting was chaired by Urmas Reinsalu, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia. The meeting was initiated by Estonia and co-organised by UN Security Council members the United States and United Kingdom, as well as Iceland, Canada, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Ukraine and Denmark. The virtual meeting was open to all UN member states.

  • The event is available for watching on the Foreign Ministry’s YouTube and Facebook channels.

Friday 20 November

High-level video meeting on the peace process of Afghanistan

The President of Afghanistan Mohammad Ashraf Ghani gave the keynote speech, with opening remarks by Foreign Minister of Afghanistan Mohammed Haneef Atmar. An overview of the peace talks and the situation in Afghanistan was provided by the UN’s Special Representative in Afghanistan Deborah Lyons, member of Afghanistan’s national negotiating team and member of the board of Afghan Red Crescent Society Fatima Gailani and Director of the International Crisis Group’s Asia programme Laurel Miller. Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu chaired the meeting. At the meeting, Estonia and Norway announced they were ready to become the UN Security Council penholders for Afghanistan in 2021. In addition to Estonia, statements on foreign minister level were also made by Security Council members Germany and Indonesia, as well as Afghanistan, Qatar, Norway and Finland who co-hosted the event. Speakers also included current UN Security Council member states and countries that will become elected members in 2021.

  • The event is available for watching on the Foreign Ministry’s YouTube and Facebook channels and UN TV.

 2021 in the Security Council

  • We are ready to assume a greater role and more responsibility in the work of the Security Council. Estonia joins Norway as the penholder for Afghanistan and France as the main negotiators for the arms embargo of Libya (the IRINI operation of the EU).
  • We will continue to chair the Iraq and Sudan sanctions committees.
  • In June 2021, we will hold the Security Council presidency for the second time. Traditionally, June has been the busiest month in the Security Council calendar when it comes to adopting resolutions and extending peacekeeping operations.

 More information