UN Security Council Working Methods

Posted 12 February 2019

Arria-Formula Meetings


Download a PDF of the complete table: Arria-Formula Meetings

Soon after the end of the Cold War, as the Council became busier than ever before in its history, receiving timely information was seen by many members as critically important. The most valuable sources of information about developments on the ground in the different conflict theatres were often actors other than those representing the parts of the UN system regularly interacting with the Council, such as the Secretary-General, the Department of Political Affairs or the Department for Peacekeeping Operations. But the Council lacked a working method that would allow it to take advantage of expertise and information provided by Council outsiders. It also, at times, was not able to find consensus to meet on a particular issue in a formal session, especially before the matter had been added as an agenda item, and an informal format (for which there does not need to be full consensus and which not all members would always attend) was the most effective option.

During the March 1992 Council presidency of Venezuela, Ambassador Diego Arria was contacted by Fra Joko Zovko, a Croatian priest who was eager to convey an eyewitness account of the violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina to members of the Council. Not being able to find a formal way to hold a meeting, Arria decided to invite Council members to meet with Fra Joko in the UN delegates lounge. This experience gave Arria the idea of institutionalising this innovative informal meeting format which came to be known as the “Arria-formula”. With the concurrence of Council members, subsequent Arria meetings moved from the delegates lounge to a UN conference room in the basement and were supported by simultaneous interpretation. More recently, some Arria meetings have been held in large UN conference rooms such as for example the Trusteeship Council chamber.

The 1993-1995 Supplement of the Repertoire of the Practice of the Security Council provides a rare definition of this format in an official UN publication: “The practice of the Arria-formula meetings, which was initiated in March 1992 by the then-President of the Security Council, Ambassador Diego Arria (Venezuela) continued through the period under consideration. Arria-formula meetings are not formal meetings of the Security Council. They are convened at the initiative of a member or members of the Security Council in order to hear the views of individuals, organizations or institutions on matters within the competence of the Security Council.”

An informal non-paper prepared by the Secretariat in October 2002 described the format as “very informal, confidential gatherings which enable Security Council members to have a frank and private exchange of views, within a flexible procedural framework, with persons whom the inviting member or members of the Council (who also act as the facilitators or conveners) believe it would be beneficial to hear and/or to whom they may wish to convey a message. They provide interested Council members an opportunity to engage in a direct dialogue with high representatives of Governments and international organizations—often at the latter’s request—as well as non-State parties, on matters with which they are concerned and which fall within the purview of responsibility of the Security Council.”

As illustrated by this table, “Arria-formula” meetings have been used over the years to meet with a range of actors, including:

  • high-level delegations from member states not represented on the Council (Arria meetings were sometimes convened for special meetings with visiting heads of state who wished to meet with the Council—for instance in the 1990s such meetings were held with the presidents of Croatia and Georgia. “Closed” formal meetings of the Council are more frequent for such purposes at present.);
  • representatives of non-state actors;
  • mandate holders of monitoring procedures of the Commission on Human Rights and, more recently, the Human Rights Council;
  • heads of international organisations;
  • high-level UN officials;
  • representatives of NGOs or civil society; or
  • representatives of territories not recognised as states who are stakeholders on issues before the Council.

On certain occasions, an Arria meeting was used as an acceptable format when there was no Council agreement for a formal meeting as was the case with the 13 December 2007 “Arria-formula” meeting on Council working methods or the 15 February 2013 meeting on the security dimensions of climate change (in which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was among the speakers). On some occasions, “Arria-formula” meetings served as preparation for an open debate of the Council. On at least one occasion, an Arria meeting helped pave the way for the Council becoming seized of an issue as exemplified by the 24 May 2004 Arria meeting on Darfur.

Due to their informal character, “Arria-formula” meetings usually have no record and no outcomes. Accurately listing all such meetings held since the original March 1992 meeting may be impossible. Some meetings, however, have been referenced in Council documents due to:

  • letters from the Council member(s) organising an Arria meeting, addressed to the president of the Security Council, describing the event and asking that the letter be circulated as a document of the Security Council;
  • requests that speeches delivered during an Arria meeting be issued as documents of the Council;
  • letters congratulating the Council member(s) for organising an Arria meeting; or
  • assessments of a Council presidency, which reference Arria meetings held during the presidency (sometimes with a considerable degree of detail).

The 8 August 2016 Arria meeting on the humanitarian situation in Aleppo, Syria, marked the first occasion when an Arria meeting was webcast on UN TV, with the footage subsequently archived on the UN website: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/security-council/watch/aleppo-under-siege-syrias-latest-tragedy-unfolds-security-council-arria-formula-open-meeting.

In some cases, Council documents provide a glimpse into the views of Council members on the use of this tool. One presidential statement—on “The role of civil society in conflict prevention and the pacific settlement of disputes” of 20 September 2005—states that “the Security Council underscored and will strengthen its relationship with civil society, including as appropriate, through, inter alia, the use of ‘Arria-formula’ meetings and meetings with local civil society organisations during Security Council missions” (S/PRST/2005/42).

Note 507 (2006) on Council working methods similarly states in its paragraph 54 that “[t]he members of the Security Council intend to utilise ‘Arria- formula’ meetings as a flexible and informal forum for enhancing their deliberations. To that end, members of the Security Council may invite on an informal basis any Member State, relevant organization or individual to participate in ‘Arria- formula’ informal meetings. The members of the Security Council agree to consider using such meetings to enhance their contact with civil society and NGOs, including local NGOs suggested by United Nations field offices. The members of the Security Council encourage the introduction of such measures as lengthening lead times, defining topics that participants might address and permitting their participation by video teleconference.” The same language was reproduced in paragraph 65 of note 507 (2010).

Considerably more detail was provided by the chair of the Informal Working Group in his briefing to the Security Council on 20 December 2006 as the outgoing chair of the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions (S/PV.5601). Ambassador Kenzo Oshima (Japan) encouraged members of the Council to organise “Arria-formula” meetings and provide sufficient advance notice as well as to attend them while stressing the need to maintain the informal character of these meetings. The content of the Arria meetings-related understandings was included in the “The Security Council: Working Methods Handbook” published by the UN in booklet form in 2012. More recently, a 28 August 2013 note by the president of the Council stated members’ commitment to making more effective use of “Arria-formula” meetings (S/2013/515).

Over the years, the frequency of “Arria-formula” meetings has varied. In the 1990s and early 2000s, “Arria-formula” meetings were quite frequent, peaking at 20 in 1996. In 2003 the number of meetings dropped to just three, and for the next several years oscillated between five and nine. In 2010 there were two such meetings and in 2011 just one. The next year, however, saw a climb to ten “Arria-formula” meetings, follow by a drop to 5 meetings in 2013. Seven meetings have been held in 2014.In 2015 there were 17 Arria-formula meetings.

The purpose for calling for “Arria-formula” meetings has also evolved over the years. In its early years, meetings with visiting high-level officials, representatives of international organisations and high-level UN officials accounted for the bulk of the meetings. These declined as the Council developed or used other meeting formats to meet with high-level officials, such as the High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, the prosecutors and presidents of ad-hoc criminal tribunals or leaders of international and regional organisations.

Starting around 2001, “Arria-formula” meetings frequently involved representatives of NGOs and other representatives of civil society. According to UN Secretariat sources and the note by the president of the Security Council of 6 June 2002, there were three Arria meetings with civil society from 1993 to 2000 (S/2002/603). In 2001, six out of the 13 meetings involved NGO representatives, as did nine of the 14 held in 2002. All four “Arria-formula” meetings organised in 2003, eight in 2004 and seven in 2005 involved NGO and civil society speakers. Since 2006, the invited speakers have been a mix of the categories described above. Eleven of the 22 “Arria-formula” meetings held from 2012 through 2014 involved UN officials as speakers, including the Secretary-General at the 15 February 2013 meeting on security dimensions of climate change. On at least two occasions, Council members held an “Arria-formula” meeting with local civil society representatives while on a Council visiting mission: on 3 November 2003 in Kabul, during a 31 October-7 November visiting mission to Afghanistan, and on 19 November 2004 in Nairobi, during a Security Council session away from headquarters focused on Sudan.

Since 2012, “Arria-formula” meetings seem to reflect a growing degree of comfort among Council members in interacting with Human Rights Council-mandated Commissions of Inquiry. In March that year, Council members held an Arria meeting with the Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry on Syria. Several more meetings with the Syria Commission of Inquiry followed. In April 2014, Council members also held an Arria meeting with the Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.