Updated on 19 March 2018
Chapter 2: PLACE AND FORMAT OF COUNCIL PROCEEDINGS
Section 11: "Arria-formula" meetings and "Somavia-formula" meetings
Arria-formula meeting on Syrian human rights convened on short notice, to some complaints
In response to a request by France, supported by the Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States, the Security Council convened a formal Council meeting on 19 March 2018. The draft agenda for the meeting was “The situation in the Middle East”, and it had been proposed by France that at the meeting, the Council would receive a briefing on the human rights situation in Syria by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
However, at the outset of the meeting, the representative of the Russian Federation took the floor to state his opposition to the meeting going forward. In the procedural vote that resulted, the votes in favour of holding the meeting fell short, by just one, of the necessary minimum of nine. Eight affirmative votes were cast by France, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. Bolivia, China, Kazakhstan, and the Russian Federation cast negative votes, while abstentions were entered by the three African members of the Council – Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, and Ethiopia.
Given the result of the procedural vote, the Council President (Netherlands) was then obligated to adjourn the meeting. Shortly thereafter, representatives of France, the United States, Sweden and the United Kingdom announced at the press stakeout that 20 minutes later, they would convene an Arria-formula meeting in the ECOSOC Chamber at which Prince Zeid would give the briefing that he would have given in the Security Council Chamber had the formal meeting gone forward.
As noted in the book, Arria-formula meetings are not official activities of the Security Council and for that reason, each Council member can decide whether or not to attend. And in fact, in recent years, there have been a number of such meetings at which one or more Council members have been absent (see related article on this website). However, all 15 Council members attended the 19 March 2018 “Arria”, despite the fact that seven Council members had not supported convening a formal meeting on the human rights situation in Syria, as well as the fact that the “Arria” would be public and that very short notice had been given.
At the Arria-formula meeting, the representative of France indicated that in addition to the four countries which earlier announced the meeting, it was being convened also by the Netherlands, Peru and Poland.
During the "Arria", the Chinese representative underscored that although his delegation had decided to participate in the meeting in a spirit of compromise, Council members had had less than 30 minutes to prepare for it. The Russian representative contended that the Arria-formula meeting had been organized in violation of the rules of procedure, especially given that delegations did not have enough time to prepare.
As mentioned in the book, owing to the unofficial nature of Arria-formula meetings, the Security Council has included only minimal guidelines concerning their organization in its presidential notes on working methods. However, relevant to the Arria-formula meeting convened on 19 March 2018 is paragraph 98 of the most recent presidential note on working methods (S/2017/507), which states in connection with Arria-formula meetings that
“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” (our emphasis).
In addition, the Handbook on the Working Methods of the Security Council, published by the Government of Japan and also as a UN Sales Publication, contains “elements” of an agreed understanding on Arria-formula meetings, as reported orally by the Chair of the Council’s Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions to the Security Council on 20 December 2006. The “elements” include a paragraph which states
“Any member of the Security Council convening an ‘Arria-formula’ meeting should inform all participating Security Council members about the planned procedure for and participants in the meeting, and is encouraged to do so well in advance” (our emphasis).
Both of these guidelines, however, are worded as recommendations, not requirements, and so the short notice with which the Arria-formula meeting was convened on 19 March 2018 cannot be considered as having left a necessary prerequisite unmet.
(This update supplements pages 74-92 of the book.)