With the incremental transformation the Security Council has gone through in March by transferring the bulk of its meetings online, the Dominican Republic’s special envoy to the United Nations intends to preside over the Council “like a sailboat, we’ll go wherever the wind takes us.”
As the agenda of the Council will be adopted on a daily basis, there is little predictability ahead for the body, but José Singer Weisinger, the envoy, promises more transparency: “The important thing is that the whole world knows the Security Council is engaged, and it is completely transparent.”
To do so, the Dominican Republic plans to live-stream some of the Council’s meetings, which have been held by videoconference (VTC) since mid-March, for the first time in the Council’s history. But Russia is still apparently pushing for the virtual meetings to be called “informal” and thus closed to the public — while the Dominican Republic is trying to change this.
Some of the 10 elected members of the Council are also requesting a meeting on the coronavirus outbreak and its impact on peace and security — a topic that China, as president of the Council last month, was unable to do for political reasons and possibly because of its own unwillingness, too.
Still, the Council’s program of work is packed for April: the Dominican Republic’s priorities include an open meeting on youth, peace and security as well as protecting civilians from conflict-induced hunger. The Council will also discuss Yemen, Israel-Palestine, Colombia, Syria and the Great Lakes region in West Africa.
Besides the Council’s sudden changes in how it works in the age of Covid-19, Singer will be leading the world body from Santo Domingo, his country’s capital. It’s the Dominican Republic’s last year on the Council until probably 2050, the next time it could get a seat as a member of the Latin American and Caribbean regional group in the UN.
So Singer is leaning on a Caribbean style metaphor, going where the wind takes him, he said in a phone interview from his office in Santo Domingo. But he is determined to make sure his presidency leaves a paper trail for his country’s work in April 2020 and for the UN history books, when they document what happened during the coronavirus pandemic.
Singer held a media briefing by videoconference on April 1, offering the journalists who cover the UN a live window into the Council’s work since it began meeting exclusively in closed virtual sessions in mid-March.
Each month, PassBlue profiles UN ambassadors as they assume the Council presidency. To hear an original audio interview with Singer and more details on the Dominican Republic’s goals for April, download PassBlue’s latest episode of UN-Scripted. (Excerpts of the podcast are also below.)
Dominican Republic’s Special Envoy: José Singer Weisinger, 68
Envoy to UN Since: January 2019 (the permanent representative is Francisco A. Cortorreal)
Languages: English, Spanish
Education: Adelphi University (Garden City, N.Y.), bachelor’s degree in business
His story, briefly: The month of April is José Singer Weisinger’s second and final month on the Council as president — and his term as special envoy will likely end at the same time. Singer, a businessman, was sent to New York City to help with the presidency. He pays for all his expenses in New York City and says it’s a gift to his country.
But Singer was already familiar with the United States before coming to the UN headquarters: he studied business at Adelphi University on Long Island. He started his own business, buying a printing company in 1987 and one in plastics in 1992. Today, his two companies, based in the Dominican Republic, have more than 1,000 employees combined, he said, and his children are taking care of the businesses while he’s working in the Security Council.
In an interview with PassBlue during his first term as president, he said, “I may be the first Adelphi graduate to sit in the Security Council.”
Singer said he returned to Santo Domingo when the UN physically closed, in mid-March, to conduct his presidency from there remotely. He may not be the only Council member, however, to return home, as the coronavirus pandemic may force other diplomats to be repatriated and run their respective presidencies from their capital as well.
Thinking back about his term and his background, Singer says: “I really have been accepted by other ambassadors thinking outside of the box, which is mainly the strong part which I bring to the Council, to see how we can get out of this situation where we’re talk, talk, talk and don’t agree on anything. So we have to get there. So we’ll keep fighting.”
He also says that despite the long time that will lapse until the Dominican Republic’s next term on the Council, he thinks his team’s experience will serve the country’s foreign ministry and its delegation in the General Assembly for years to come.
Singer talked to PassBlue on March 30. His remarks have been edited for space and clarity.
Q. You’re talking to us from the Dominican Republic right now? Yes. I never thought that I wouldn’t go back to run the Council from New York or we weren’t able to have meetings. So that’s when the whole thing started on how are we going to manage the Council under these circumstances. . . . So the Dominican presidency is going to be handled like a sailboat, go wherever the wind takes us. These are very challenging times for the whole world. The important thing is that the Security Council is engaged, and it is completely transparent. That’s the goal of our presidency, and we would leave a long paper trail. Since it’s going to be informal, we weren’t able to convince a couple members that they [meetings] should be more formal [open]. We’re going to have it in a way that the history is there. And, you know, the Chinese presidency was able to make agreements for voting purposes. Then we submitted a working method that took a pragmatic approach, with the most important thing to us is that the Council is working.
Q. I imagine that the coronavirus changed your plans as president, so how was it in March to get ready and take over from China in April? I think we have to thank China because they were able to solve the problem of the voting on resolutions and Council members agreed, and today we are holding the first voting on four different topics. We adapted the working methods as if we’re going to have a full schedule. For the whole month, there will be a program that we’re going to take day by day, and everybody agrees with that. It’s part of the way we want to run the presidency. We want to be very, very practical. These are challenging times, and there’s no time for infighting.
Q. Can you tell me a little more about the political barriers that you encountered in getting Council work done in the last month? At first there was a lot of uncertainty on how to do things. We had to get it right. I think the experience of the Chinese presidency has helped us greatly to have something more compact and to know where we’re going. I don’t want to judge him [Ambassador Zhang Jun]; I think if I had been in that position, I probably would have had the same uncertainties, and all the other members would have had the same uncertainties. We know that voting is one of the most important things [for the Council] and that got done.
Foreign Affairs Minister: Miguel Vargas
Type of Government: Representative republic
Year Dominican Republic Joined the UN: 1945
Years in the Security Council: 2019-2020
Population: 10.7 million
Memberships in Regional Groups: Organization of American States (OAS), Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, Group of 77 (G77), Inter-American Development Bank
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Stéphanie Fillion is a New York-based reporter specializing in foreign affairs and human rights who has been writing for PassBlue regularly for a year, including co-producing UN-Scripted, a new podcast series on global affairs through a UN lens. She has a master’s degree in journalism, politics and global affairs from Columbia University and a B.A. in political science from McGill University. Fillion was awarded a European Union in Canada Young Journalists fellowship in 2015 and was an editorial fellow for La Stampa in 2017. She speaks French, English and Italian.