UN Security Council Working Methods

Posted 16 December 2020

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, many 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.”

Starting in 2017, member states not on the Council occasionally joined Council members in organising Arria-formula meetings.

As illustrated by the table accompanying this section, 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. “Private” formal meetings of the Council or “Informal Interactive Dialogues” 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 and other members of 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. For example, an Arria-formula meeting organised by Senegal in April 2016 on “Water, Peace and Security” served as 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 served as preparation for the 27 February 2019 open debate and the adoption of a resolution on this issue (resolution 2457). Similarly, the 31 January 2019 Arria-formula meeting on “Preventing and Countering the financing of terrorism” organised by Australia, France, Indonesia, Peru and Tunisia was seen as helpful in preparation for an open debate on the same theme held on 28 March, during which the Council adopted resolution 2462. The 3 December 2018 Arria-formula meeting on the situation of persons with disabilities in armed conflict organised by Poland was the first step towards the 20 June 2019 adoption of resolution 2475 on this issue. 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;
  • letters to the president of the Security Council from the meeting’s organiser(s) containing the meeting’s concept note; 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. Webcasting of Arria-formula meetings became quite frequent in the period since, with 16 out of the 21 Arria-formula meetings in 2018 having been webcast and archived on the UN website. In 2019, 17 out of the 22 Arria-formula meetings were webcast and archived by the UN.

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”.

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) and restated in paragraph 98 of the 2017 version of the working methods compendium.

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 four, 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, followed by a drop to six meetings in 2013. Six meetings were held in 2014. In 2015 there were 17 Arria-formula meetings, in 2016 there were 12, in 2017 there were 17, in 2018 there were 21, and in 2019 there was an all-time high of 22 meetings.

The purpose of 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.

Since 2012, Arria-formula meetings have frequently been used to afford Council members an opportunity for interaction 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.

Arria-formula meetings with top UN officials have been held when no agreement could be reached to hear a formal briefing because of the topic to be addressed. The Secretary-General briefed at the 15 February 2013 meeting on security dimensions of climate change, and on 19 March 2018 an Arria-formula meeting was organised on the spot, right after the Council held a procedural vote and rejected holding a formal briefing on human rights in Syria by the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

For several years now, most Arria-formula meetings have included representatives of NGOs and the broader civil society among the briefers. 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. 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. In 2019, all but five of the 22 Arria meetings had civil society representatives among the featured speakers. 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.