Ever since the United Nations Security Council announced the holding of an Arria-formula session on the humanitarian situation in Cameroon three weeks back, a robust campaign was launched to downplay the meeting.
Political analysts and social media influencers flirting with the regime even went as far saying on local TV and radio stations that it was fake news and there was no way such event would hold.
It was even said that some trusted and reliable friends of Cameroon at the Security Council had washed their hands off the meeting, hailing the country’s strong diplomatic tentacles in the move. For some, it was a useless, insignificant gathering of those trying to destabilize the one and Indivisible Cameroon and create an avenue for foreign intervention in a domestic problem.
Just when the public was still trying to digest the confusion raised by this line of thought, the Minister of External Relations regurgitated the matter hours to the 13th May meeting, to dismiss any sitting of the security council on Cameroon.
Le Jeune Mbella Mbella in a signed release clearly stated that “the arria formula should not in any way be construed as a UN Security Council meeting, but rather a totally free encounter OUTSIDE the preview of the council, initiated by some of its members, wishing to address any specific issue, and which in this case, is the humanitarian situation in Cameroon.”
He emphasized in the lecture that “this Arria-Formula meeting is neither an informal consultation or an unofficial meeting, both methods being used to hold internal meetings of the Council.”
This pushed Mimi Mefo Info to determine from the Working Methods of the Security Council, whether this method did not constitute part of the working system of the Security Council, and if it wasn’t an informal meeting as claimed by Government and its allies.
Origin of Arria-Formula Meetings
Soon after the end of the Cold War, as the Council became busier than ever before in its history, receiving timely information was seen by many members as critically important.
The most valuable sources of information about developments on the ground in the different conflict theatres were often actors other than those representing the parts of the UN system regularly interacting with the Council, such as the Secretary-General, the Department of Political Affairs or the Department for Peacekeeping Operations.
But the Council lacked a working method that would allow it to take advantage of expertise and information provided by Council outsiders.
It also, at times, was not able to find consensus to meet on a particular issue in a formal session, especially before the matter had been added as an agenda item, and an informal format (for which there does not need to be full consensus and which not all members would always attend) was the most effective option.
During the March 1992 Council presidency of Venezuela, Ambassador Diego Arria was contacted by Fra Joko Zovko, a Croatian priest who was eager to convey an eyewitness account of the violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina to members of the Council. Not being able to find a formal way to hold a meeting, Arria decided to invite Council members to meet with Fra Joko in the UN delegates lounge.
This experience gave Arria the idea of institutionalizing this innovative informal meeting format which came to be known as the “Arria-formula”.
With the concurrence of Council members, subsequent Arria meetings moved from the delegates lounge to a UN conference room in the basement and were supported by simultaneous interpretation. More recently, many Arria meetings have been held in large UN conference rooms such as, the Trusteeship Council chamber.
The 1993-1995 Supplement of the Repertoire of the Practice of the Security Council provides a rare definition of this format in an official UN publication: “The practice of the Arria-formula meetings, which was initiated in March 1992 by the then-President of the Security Council, Ambassador Diego Arria (Venezuela) continued through the period under consideration.
Arria-formula meetings are not formal meetings of the Security Council. They are convened at the initiative of a member or members of the Security Council in order to hear the views of individuals, organizations or institutions on matters within the competence of the Security Council.”
An informal non-paper prepared by the Secretariat in October 2002 described the format as “very informal, confidential gatherings which enable Security Council members to have a frank and private exchange of views, within a flexible procedural framework, with persons whom the inviting member or members of the Council (who also act as the facilitators or conveners) believe it would be beneficial to hear and/or to whom they may wish to convey a message.
They provide interested Council members an opportunity to engage in a direct dialogue with high representatives of Governments and international organizations—often at the latter’s request—as well as non-State parties, on matters with which they are concerned and which fall within the purview of responsibility of the Security Council.”
Starting in 2017, member states not on the Council occasionally joined Council members in organizing Arria-formula meetings.
Arria-formula meetings have been used over the years to meet with a range of actors, including:
•High-level delegations from member states not represented on the Council (Arria meetings were sometimes convened for special meetings with visiting heads of state who wished to meet with the Council—for instance in the 1990s such meetings were held with the presidents of Croatia and Georgia. “Private” formal meetings of the Council or “Informal Interactive Dialogues” are more frequent for such purposes at present.);
•representatives of non-state actors;
•mandate holders of monitoring procedures of the Commission on Human Rights and, more recently, the Human Rights Council;
•heads of international organisations;
•high-level UN officials
•representatives of NGOs and other members of civil society; or
•representatives of territories not recognized as states who are stakeholders on issues before the Council.
On certain occasions, an Arria meeting was used as an acceptable format when there was no Council agreement for a formal meeting as was the case with the 13 December 2007 Arria-formula meeting on Council working methods or the 15 February 2013 meeting on the security dimensions of climate change (in which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was among the speakers).
On some occasions, Arria-formula meetings served as preparation for an open debate of the Council.
For example, an Arria-formula meeting organised by Senegal in April 2016 on “Water, Peace and Security” served as a preparatory step to holding an open debate on this topic during its November presidency that year.
The 19 October 2018 Arria-formula meeting on “Silencing the Guns in Africa” organised by Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, South Africa and the AU served as preparation for the 27 February 2019 open debate and the adoption of a resolution on this issue (resolution 2457). Similarly, the 31 January 2019 Arria-formula meeting on “Preventing and Countering the financing of terrorism” organised by Australia, France, Indonesia, Peru and Tunisia was seen as helpful in preparation for an open debate on the same theme held on 28 March, during which the Council adopted resolution 2462.
On at least one occasion, an Arria meeting helped pave the way for the Council becoming seized of an issue as exemplified by the 24 May 2004 Arria meeting on Darfur.
Due to their informal character, “Arria-formula” meetings usually have no record and no outcomes. Accurately listing all such meetings held since the original March 1992 meeting may be impossible. Some meetings, however, have been referenced in Council documents due to:
•letters from the Council member(s) organising an Arria meeting, addressed to the president of the Security Council, describing the event and asking that the letter be circulated as a document of the Security Council;
•requests that speeches delivered during an Arria meeting be issued as documents of the Council;
•letters congratulating the Council member(s) for organising an Arria meeting;
•letters to the president of the Security Council from the meeting’s organiser(s) containing the meeting’s concept note; or
•assessments of a Council presidency, which reference Arria meetings held during the presidency (sometimes with a considerable degree of detail).
Arriar Formula as a working method of the Security Council
Note 507 (2006) on Council working methods similarly states in its paragraph 54 that “the members of the Security Council intend to utilise ‘Arria-formula’ meetings as a flexible and informal forum for enhancing their deliberations. To that end, members of the Security Council may invite on an informal basis any Member State, relevant organization or individual to participate in ‘Arria-formula’ informal meetings. The members of the Security Council agree to consider using such meetings to enhance their contact with civil society and NGOs, including local NGOs suggested by United Nations field offices.
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.” The same language was reproduced in paragraph 65 of note 507 (2010) and restated in paragraph 98 of the 2017 version of the working methods compendium.
Since 2012, Arria-formula meetings have frequently been used to afford Council members an opportunity for interaction with Human Rights Council-mandated Commissions of Inquiry.
In March that year, Council members held an Arria meeting with the Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry on Syria. Several more meetings with the Syria Commission of Inquiry followed.
In April 2014, Council members also held an Arria meeting with the Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Arria-formula meetings with top UN officials have been held when no agreement could be reached to hear a formal briefing because of the topic to be addressed.
The Secretary-General briefed at the 15 February 2013 meeting on security dimensions of climate change, and on 19 March 2018 an Arria-formula meeting was organised on the spot, right after the Council held a procedural vote and rejected holding a formal briefing on human rights in Syria by the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The Cameroon Situation:
Beyond all the theses raised to downplay the Arria-formula meeting, Security Council members held an Arria-formula meeting, May 13 on “the humanitarian crisis in Cameroon”, organised by the Dominican Republic, Germany, the UK and the US.
Panelists were the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland, and Esther Omam Njomo, the Executive Director of Reach Out Cameroon, a local not-for-profit organization focused on the well-being of underprivileged groups in Cameroon, such as women and children.
Council members were invited to speak, while other member states, permanent observers and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) attended and made their respective views heard. The meeting was webcasted live by the UN and has been archived for future referencing.
One is forced to question the motive behind such an aggressive campaign to derail the public over a system which has been accepted and has been used for years by the security council to address pressing issues. Why will the UN webcast and archive these “useless, insignificant” meetings if it didn’t attach importance to it? Why would a meeting which had nothing with the UNSC working system be holding at the UN headquarters in New York and not the conference room of a hotel or a Restaurant in the city? Where those who had initially washed their hands off the meeting as claimed, tied with ropes and dragged to defend their stance on the burning humanitarian crisis?
From what we have gathered, it goes without saying that the Arria-formula session on the humanitarian crisis in Cameroon is a concrete working method of the Security Council, and should not be viewed as a walk over.
Being one of the working methods of the Security Council the hearings yesterday just like in other cases since 1992 could have far reaching consequences on human rights violators (both Government and Separatists) as well as the suffering people on the ground.
As Human Rights Watch stated, the holding of the session is telling testimony of the interest the UN is showing towards the deteriorating situation on the ground. No one, not even those in Yaoundé ever imagined, major World powers would sit even on a dinner date to talk about the devastating fallouts of the armed conflict in the North West and South West regions of Cameroon.
But the issue has been heard for the first time by a very crucial body of the Global peace crusader. And it is now uncertain how far issues will play in the hands of the International community.
With continuous lobbying aimed at paying more attention towards the needs of IDPs and Refugees, the UN might just be gradually taking centre stage in a conflict which has apparently gone out of the hands of its protagonists. Without predicting a formal session of the Security Council on the country’s humanitarian situation, it suffices to say the future of this crisis is indeed pregnant!!
By Nsoesie Peter
Mimi Mefo Info