What's In Blue

Posted Tue 24 Nov 2020

Arria-Formula Meeting on Unilateral Coercive Measures

Tomorrow afternoon (25 November) Council members will participate in a virtual Arria-formula meeting organised by China, Niger, Russia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and South Africa on the issue of Unilateral Coercive Measures (UCMs). In addition to the members of the Security Council, all UN member states and permanent observers from several organisations have been invited to participate. The 2 pm (EST) meeting will be streamed live on UN Web TV.

While there is no strict definition of UCMs, the term usually refers to one state or group of states’ economic measures applied to another state in order to compel it to make changes in its policy.

The concept note circulated by the organisers of the meeting highlights concerns about UCMs being able to hamper the economic development and health capacity of affected countries and says that, “[I]n the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, their negative influences have drawn more attention and concerns from Member States”.

The concept note asks the participants to consider the following questions:

  • What are the impacts of UCMs on the fight against COVID-19?
  • What are the negative impacts of UCMs on the affected countries’ social and economic development? How to mitigate those impacts?
  • What are the impacts of UCMs on the humanitarian situation of the affected countries? How effective are the so-called humanitarian exemptions?
  • How to push for the lifting of the UCMs? What could the Security Council do?

The expected briefers are:

  • Alena Douhan, UN Special Rapporteur on the impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights;
  • Fermín Quiñones, President of the United Nations Cuban Association;
  • Khaled Erksoussi, the Secretary General of the Syrian Red Crescent; and
  • Nhamo A. Mhiripiri, Associate Professor at the Midlands State University, Zimbabwe.

Several UN bodies have taken up the issue of UCMs, with the General Assembly adopting since 1989 a biannual resolution titled “Unilateral economic measures as a means of political and economic coercion against developing countries” and an annual resolution on “Human rights and unilateral coercive measures” since 1997. In common with its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights, the Human Rights Council (HRC), has regularly adopted a resolution on the topic “Human rights and unilateral coercive measures”, and in 2014, established the mandate of a special rapporteur on the theme of the impact of the UCMs on the enjoyment of human rights.

UCMs, the type of sanctions in focus at tomorrow’s meeting, are not those sanctions imposed by the Security Council. Sanctions, as outlined in Article 41 of the UN Charter, have been recognised as an important instrument for the Security Council’s mandate of maintaining international peace and security. The Security Council has imposed sanctions 30 times, all but two of these cases occurring since 1990, and has sought to apply sanctions restrictively to minimise their negative humanitarian effects, according to the HRC rapporteur in her July 2020 report (A/HRC/45/7). There are currently 14 sanctions regimes.

There are divergent views on the Council regarding the use of sanctions.  Russia and China, in particular, have taken a more cautious view of the effectiveness of UN-mandated sanctions than several other members. Russia has also frequently been critical of the use of bilateral sanctions (that is, those not authorised by the UN Security Council) which fit the definition of UCMs. Other members may be reluctant for the Council to take a critical view of UCMs, especially when they themselves employ these measures as a foreign policy tool. They may also hesitate to create confusion in public perceptions about the different types of sanctions, as UCMs are distinct from sanctions that have been essential for the Council’s work. Even where its own sanctions are concerned, the Security Council has been reluctant to address sanctions thematically, preferring to do so one sanctions regime at a time. The last time it adopted a thematic sanctions resolution was in 2006. Efforts at having resolutions adopted under the agenda item “General issues relating to sanctions” in 2014 and 2017 were unsuccessful.

The informal Arria-formula meeting, in use since 1992, is considered one of the most flexible of Council’s practices. Holding such a meeting does not require Council consensus, and members may choose not to attend. The Arria-formula meetings are convened at the initiative of one or more Council members, occasionally also with cooperation from non-Council members. France, the UK and the US have each convened between 27 and 50 Arria meetings.  For Russia, which has recently picked up the pace significantly in this respect, tomorrow’s meeting will be its eighth, and its fourth in 2020. China has co-organised two Arria meetings so far, both in 2020, and tomorrow’s meeting will be the first in whose organisation it has taken the lead.