To commemorate the end of the Second World War in Europe, Estonia, the current President of the Security Council, convened today (8 May) an “Arria-formula” meeting on “the lessons learned for preventing future atrocities and the responsibility” of the Council. What is an “Arria-formula” meeting and why is this format important in discussions about international peace and security?
The year 2020 will see the commemoration of many events - all related - that shaped the international system. Today, 8 May, much of Europe and the world marks the end of the Second World War on European soil. On this occasion, Estonia organized an “Arria-formula” meeting to “discuss the merits of the post-war order and to evaluate current security threats posed by conflicts in Europe and beyond”. The meeting, as all other large encounters in the COVID-19 age, connected participants via video. But that was not its only innovation. Today’s was the first Arria-formula meeting to be held at the Ministerial level. Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu chaired the session, which heard statements from Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy; Rosemary DiCarlo, UN Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, and many other senior officials. We have come a long way since that day in March 1992 when then Council President Ambassador Diego Arria of Venezuela agreed to meet eyewitnesses to the violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the UN Delegates Lounge so Council members could hear their accounts.
Indeed, Arria-formula meetings are not provided for under the UN Charter or the Council’s Provisional Rules of Procedure, and they are not considered an activity of the Council. They are convened at the initiative of one or several Council members in order to hear the views of individuals, organizations or institutions on matters within the competence of the Council.
As an informal activity, Arria-formula meetings are held outside of the Council Chamber and no official records are made. They are generally not included in the daily UN Journal of meetings. Arria-formula meetings may involve all or only some Council members. They are most frequently presided over and facilitated by the Council member or members convening the event, not necessarily the President of the Council, and have in some instances also been co-hosted by non-Council members.
Council members have recognized the Arria-formula meeting format as an important element of their working methods. Following the first meeting in 1992, the Venezuelan delegation said the practice was “appropriate and necessary to obtain direct assessments from individuals, organizations or institutions that could […] contribute to a better understanding of the situation under consideration”. (S/1999/286) In the latest comprehensive Note by the President on the Council’s working methods of 30 August 2017 (“Note 507”), Arria-formula meetings are described “as a flexible and informal forum” for deliberations. For this purpose, Council members could invite on an informal basis any Member State, relevant organization or individual. Council members also agreed to consider using such meetings to enhance their contact with civil society and non-governmental organizations, including local non-governmental organizations suggested by United Nations field officers. (S/2017/507, para. 98).
In the early years after their introduction, Arria formula-meetings were generally confidential gatherings between Council members and high-level international or national officials without the presence of the Secretariat. They also focused primarily on specific conflict situations of which the Council was already seized such as the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, the Great Lakes region, Western Sahara, the Middle East, and others.
With the evolution of the Council’s substantive practice and working methods, including the introduction of other types of activities such as the Informal Interactive Dialogue meetings, Arria-formula meetings have undergone notable changes in terms of scope, participation and format. Today, Arria-formula meetings are a frequently used and important tool for Council member engagement with a multitude of non-governmental and civil society organizations. They are also generally open to the public and even broadcast.
Over the past twenty years, Council members have used the format to discuss a wide variety of complex thematic issues that could have an impact on international peace and security, on some occasions before the issues were addressed in formal Council meetings. Beginning with general issues related to human rights, children and armed conflict, women and peace and security, and the protection of civilians in armed conflict, Council members have also taken up themes related to justice and accountability, food security and famine, sexual violence in situations of armed conflict, counter-terrorism, transnational organized crime, climate and security, natural resources, the smuggling and theft of cultural heritage, cybersecurity, hybrid wars, and corruption, among others.
For more information on the history of Arria-formula meetings, see: Repertoire of the Practice of the Security Council and the Highlights of Security Council Practice