In Hindsight: Arria-Formula Meetings
The “Arria-formula” is the most flexible meeting format the Security Council has at its disposal. It has been used every year since March 1992, when Ambassador Diego Arria of Venezuela wanted fellow Council members to hear an eyewitness account of atrocities occurring in the former Yugoslavia. Unable to find a formal way to hold such a meeting, Arria invited Council members to meet with the witness in the UN delegates’ lounge. This was deemed useful; several similarly informal briefings were soon held, and the term “Arria-formula meetings” was born.
With the concurrence of Council members, subsequent Arria meetings moved from the delegates’ lounge to a UN conference room and were supported by simultaneous interpretation. On 3 November 2003, Council members held an Arria-formula meeting with local civil society representatives in Kabul during their visiting mission to Afghanistan. An Arria-formula meeting with representatives of civil society was also held on 19 November 2004 in Nairobi, on the margins of a Security Council formal session away from headquarters, focused on Sudan.
As is often the case when the Council wants to retain flexibility with respect to a practice, it has not defined the Arria-formula briefing precisely. Broadly speaking, these are meetings convened at the initiative of a Council member or members—sometimes in collaboration with states not on the Council—who believe it would be beneficial to hear from specific individuals, organisations or institutions and have a frank exchange of views. Holding an Arria meeting does not require the consensus of all 15 members; those opposed may signal their views by not attending.
Illustrating the Arria-formula’s flexibility, the range of briefers has evolved and expanded, from high-level government and UN officials, representatives of NGOs and other members of civil society, to representatives of non-state actors, Hollywood actors, mandate holders of human rights monitoring procedures, representatives of international organisations and of territories not recognised as states who are stakeholders on issues before the Council.
Arria-formula meetings with top UN officials have been held when no agreement could be reached to hear a formal briefing due to sensitivities around the topic. The Secretary-General addressed an Arria meeting on 15 February 2013 on security dimensions of climate change, and on 19 March 2018 an Arria-formula meeting was organised on the spot, immediately after a Council procedural vote had rejected a formal briefing on human rights in Syria by the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Arria-formula meetings afford interested Council members an opportunity to engage in a direct dialogue on matters of concern, and can also be part of a broader strategy. Some have served as preparation for a Council open debate: an Arria-formula meeting organised by Senegal in April 2016 on “Water, Peace and Security” was a preparatory step to holding an open debate on this topic during its November presidency that year. The 19 October 2018 Arria-formula meeting on “Silencing the Guns in Africa”, organised by Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, South Africa and the AU, paved the way for the 27 February 2019 open debate and the adoption of resolution 2457 on this issue. Similarly, the 31 January Arria-formula meeting on “Preventing and Countering the Financing of Terrorism”, organised by Australia, France, Indonesia, Peru and Tunisia, was regarded as helpful preparation for an open debate on the same theme held on 28 March, during which the Council adopted resolution 2462. On at least one occasion, an Arria meeting helped lay the groundwork for the Council to become seized of an issue, as happened with the 24 May 2004 Arria meeting on Darfur.
Because of their informal character, Arria-formula meetings usually have neither a record nor an outcome, and are not included on the monthly programme of work posted on the UN website. But organisers have found ways for the meetings to be referenced in Council documents through letters addressed to the president of the Security Council that:
- summarised the event and asked that the letter be circulated as a document of the Security Council;
- included as attachments speeches delivered during an Arria-formula meeting and asked that the letter be issued as a Council document; or
- included the meeting’s concept note along with the request to issue the text as a Council document, a frequent practice in the recent period.
The assessment of its Council presidency that each member needs to produce usually mentions Arria-formula meetings held during the month, whether or not these were at the presidency’s initiative.
Since 8 August 2016 when the meeting on the humanitarian situation in Aleppo, Syria—under siege at the time—was webcast live on UN Web TV, some Arria-formula meetings are webcast and their footage archived on the UN website. Sixteen of the 21 Arria-formula meetings in 2018 were webcast and archived. While the frank nature of the discussion may be tempered as a result, issues of importance to Council members can be presented to a global audience.
The periodically-updated compendium of Council working methods known as Note 507 affirms in all three of its versions Council members’ intention to use Arria-formula meetings “as a flexible and informal forum for enhancing their deliberations” and, among other things, their agreement to use these meetings to enhance their contact with civil society and NGOs (S/2006/507, S/2010/507, and S/2017/507). This sentiment is also found in a presidential statement on “The role of civil society in conflict prevention and the pacific settlement of disputes” of 20 September 2005 (S/PRST/2005/42).
Following a period of high frequency in the 1990s and early 2000s, peaking at 20 in 1996, use of Arria-formula meetings dipped, with six to ten annual meetings becoming the norm. After a low point of just one meeting in 2011, members rediscovered this format in 2012, with ten briefings held that year, including one on women’s role in mediation and conflict resolution, one on human rights in the context of peacekeeping operations, and two by members of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria. In 2015 and 2017 there were 17 Arria-formula meetings; in 2016 there were 12. Last year’s 21 Arria-formula meetings were at an all-time high. 2019 has already seen 11 Arria-formula meetings by the end of April.
In the last year, members have used this format to highlight aspects of an issue already being considered by the Council such as protecting boys and girls in shrinking humanitarian space, or the use of sanctions in addressing sexual violence in conflict. There have also been a number of Arria-formula meetings on human rights and accountability issues, which might reflect the increasingly divisive environment around these issues in the Council.
The continuing popularity of this format is testimony to its value. These meetings have been particularly useful in introducing a new issue to the Council or providing valuable information that could not be heard in other formats. However, with their increasing use comes a need to ensure that members do not experience Arria-formula meeting-fatigue. Coordination among Council members on the strategic use of Arria-formula meetings could help ensure the longevity and effectiveness of this format.
There is no definitive list of all Arria-formula meetings held since 1992. SCR strives to keep as complete a list as possible on its website.