What's In Blue

Posted Wed 10 Aug 2022

Arria-formula Meeting on Penholdership

Tomorrow (11 August), Russia is planning to convene an Arria-formula meeting on penholdership from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm EST that will be open to all member states. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia (Russia) is expected to make opening and closing remarks. The meeting will be webcast on UN WebTV.

“Penholding” is the “informal arrangement whereby one or more Council members…initiate and chair the informal drafting process” of outcomes, according to the most recent compendium of the Council’s working methods (S/2017/507). The process goes beyond the drafting of Council outcomes, however, and includes taking the initiative on Council activities concerning that particular agenda item, such as requesting emergency meetings and organising visiting missions. The P3 (France, the UK and the US) have largely dominated this system for at least the past decade.

The penholding system has been a source of animated discussion over the years. Note 507 observes that this system “aims to facilitate timely initiatives to ensure Council action while preserving an element of continuity, with a view to enhancing the efficiency of the Council’s work”. At the same time, it states that “[a]ny member of the Security Council may be a penholder”, and that all Council members “should be allowed to participate fully in the preparation” of outcomes.

In tomorrow’s meeting, elected Council members and permanent members China and Russia are likely to reiterate longstanding criticisms of current penholding arrangements. They will probably express concern about the uneven distribution of penholdership, maintaining that more burden-sharing would broaden ownership in the Council’s work and allow it to incorporate regional perspectives and expertise more effectively. They may also voice concerns that draft resolutions renewing peace operations are at times circulated too late, limiting their time to make considered and meaningful contributions to texts before the relevant mandate expires. Some elected members may argue that they should hold the pen for issues on which they are chairing sanctions committees, which is not currently the case; alternatively, they may request that penholders consult with sanctions committee chairs more consistently on the relevant files. Additionally, there might be calls in the meeting for further discussion of penholding arrangements by the Security Council’s Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions (IWG).

There have been notable developments in recent years regarding penholding arrangements, notwithstanding ongoing criticisms of the system. In 2019, the UK and Germany shared the pen on Darfur and Libya sanctions. The latter was particularly significant, as Germany chaired the Security Council committee established pursuant to resolution 1970 (2011) concerning Libya. In 2021, Ireland drafted outcomes on Tigray, working closely with the African members and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Mexico and Albania currently share the pen with the US on Haiti and on Ukraine, respectively. France has worked with Mexico on humanitarian issues in Ukraine. In addition, elected members continue to hold the pen on Syria humanitarian issues and on Afghanistan.

In tomorrow’s meeting, P3 countries may refer to cases in which they share the pen with elected members. In this regard, at the 28 June working methods debate, the UK observed that while there “is a long-standing convention of penholding to support consistency…it is a flexible practice”.

Non-Council members may encourage the elected members to take the pen on files on which they have knowledge and interest. Like the elected members, and as outlined in Note 507, they may emphasise that penholdership is an informal arrangement and that any Council member can serve as a penholder.

In a concept note circulated in advance of the meeting, Russia states that the meeting provides an opportunity for member states to offer their views and proposals on ensuring a more equal distribution of the Council’s work. It also argues that restructuring the penholding arrangements would help to improve the effectiveness of the Council.

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