UN Security Council Working Methods

Posted 11 August 2020

Informal Interactive Dialogue


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Innovation and adaptability have been among the distinctive features of the Security Council. Some innovations take time to develop; some are invented literally on the spot. The informal interactive dialogue format is one of the working methods that emerged quite quickly.

Following the 14 July 2008 application filed by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for an arrest warrant against President Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan, the Council came under considerable pressure to take on the issue in light of its prerogatives, under Article 16 of the Rome Statute of the ICC, to defer ICC proceedings. In February 2009, a delegation of the AU and the League of Arab States arrived in New York seeking to meet with the Council to discuss the matter. Some Council members were opposed to a formal meeting because of more general procedural concerns relating to appropriate formats for Council interaction with other international or regional organisations. Others pressed strongly to afford the visiting delegation some form of interaction. On 12 February 2009, with just hours of advance notice, an event was held in a conference room (as opposed to the Council chamber), and the sign on the door proclaimed it was an “informal interactive discussion”. The meeting had no outcome but was held at a sufficiently high-level to be considered as adequate in terms of the protocol.

In the next few months, the Council further evolved the informal interactive format. There was strong political pressure in the early months of 2009 for discussing the humanitarian crisis caused by the military offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam that had trapped tens of thousands of civilians in a remote area of Sri Lanka. The contentious point was that some members were strongly opposed to creating the appearance that the Security Council was being seized of the situation in Sri Lanka, something vigorously opposed by the government of Sri Lanka. On the other hand, most other members held the view that the Council could not be seen as ignoring the humanitarian crisis. The compromise was to address Sri Lanka under this new format, which would subsequently be called “informal interactive dialogue”. Four such meetings were held on Sri Lanka in a rather quick succession, albeit with no outcomes and, in hindsight, no impact on resolving the conflict: 26 March, 22 April, 30 April and 5 June 2009.

As of the end of February, 2020, the Council had met under the informal interactive dialogue format on at least 6 69 occasions. As is often the case with different aspects of Council working methods, there is no official definition of this format. (Note 507 of 2010 contains a few references to this format but offers no definition.) The 2012 handbook on Security Council working methods defines the dialogues as “an informal private meeting of the Security Council members convened in order to hold an off-the-record discussion with one or more non-Council member states. The informal dialogues are presided over by the Council President and take place in a meeting room other than the Council Chamber or Consultations Room.” At the 30 November 2011 open debate on Council working methods, France offered the following description: “a new meeting format that allows [it] to better exchange views with members of the United Nations on situations that concern them directly. In that regard, the interactive dialogue format is sufficiently flexible to respond to several categories of need”. This is a useful working definition as it captures the key features that also distinguish this type of meeting from other formats, most notably from an “Arria-formula” meeting: dialogues tend to be situation-specific; their participants are officials, usually of high-level; they are chaired by the Council president; and access is limited to Council members.

As with all informal Council meeting formats, no records are kept and research into the use of this working method presents certain challenges. Some but not all such meetings are reflected either on the monthly programme of work of the Council, the assessments by former presidents of the Council or the annual report of the Security Council to the General Assembly. When members of the Secretariat brief, these meetings may be referred to in Secretary-General’s reports or letters to the president of the Security Council and in reports of bodies that participated in interactive dialogues, notably the Peacebuilding Commission. The informal interactive dialogues have no outcomes but may lead to a Council pronouncement (on a media stakeout or as a press statement).

In the accompanying table, we seek to compile all informal interactive dialogues to date, based on the sources mentioned above and interviews conducted by SCR.