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7 July, Vol. 7, Ed. 2

Will the ATT contribute to a culture of secrecy or promote transparency? 
Allison Pytlak | Control Arms


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One of the primary objectives of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) has always been to shine a light on the international arms trade.  This has been reiterated by states, international organizations, and UN officials multiple times over the past decade. It is strange then, that since the Treaty’s entry into force, discussions around its implementation and administration have been marked by increasing secrecy and opacity. This should be a cause for concern to any state that advocated for an ATT that promotes and contributes to transparency.  .

This trend towards the opaque has surfaced in multiple ways. When discussing the rules of procedure, for example, there has been noticeable support for future Treaty meetings to be closed by default, with the option to open them. This reverses the pattern established throughout the ATT process of meetings being open by default and closed when necessary. By automatically shutting out certain actors, states parties will not only undermine the goal of transparency but many will find themselves at odds with the claims being made about the importance of inclusivity and universalization.

Two developments on the opening day of the final preparatory committee were indicative of the movement in this direction.  During his introductory remarks to the conference, the Chair of the Provisional Secretariat, Ambassador Jorge Lomanaco of Mexico, announced an unusual approach for the selection of the host for the ATT Secretariat. There are presently three candidates to host the Secretariat—Geneva, Switzerland; Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago; and Vienna, Austria. The procedure outlined by the Chair entails him[r1]  holding one-to-one “confessionals” with all states parties present to garner their first and second preference for the Secretariat host. Based on what is learned in these private and confidential confessionals, a recommendation will be put forward to the three candidates for ATT Secretariat host for the least popular option to leave the competition. While this method is an interesting method to enable all states to have an equal say, it will make it difficult to assess how a decision was reached or who was consulted. To elect a new pope, no more than 120 cardinal electors are invited to present their preferences for the pope in secret, with the winner selected after securing two thirds of the vote. White smoke is then emitted from the Vatican. Who will get the white smoke for the ATT Secretariat?

The second development relates to the process to develop the ATT’s reporting mechanisms, both in terms of their substance and process. The new draft templates circulated today closely resemble the UN Register template and a re-structuring of the second draft template for initial measures to implement the ATT. The templates enable states to choose whether to make the reports on measures to implement the ATT and annual reports on imports and exports publicly available. If approved, the ATT will be in danger of working against one of its chief purposes—“promoting cooperation, transparency and responsible action by States Parties in the international trade in conventional arms.” Restricting the distribution of the initial report on measures to implement the ATT and annual reports on arms exports and imports to the Secretariat and states parties—as seemingly proposed in the paper on the Secretariat—would see the ATT running the risk of setting the norm for transparency back by 25 years.

Civil society is not alone in its concerns. Transparency, or lack thereof, was specifically referenced in statements by delegations made in the plenary as well as informal discussions regarding challenges to participation in informal consultations that took place in Geneva and New York over the last few months. In some cases states said that they did not know when or where the meetings were taking place. This has negatively impacted the ability of all states parties and signatories to make a meaningful contribution to this process. One delegation welcomed that the facilitators of the working groups on financial rules and reporting visited New York to discuss with delegations there as well as in Geneva, implicitly drawing attention to the fact that this has not been the normal practice.

The ATT process and its outputs, in particular reports on how the ATT is being implemented and its critical provisions applied, have to be made publicly available to ensure oversight and support for effective implementation, as well as to build confidence in the Treaty itself. Decisions that affect how this Treaty will be implemented and administered must be made in the open and not behind closed doors. Reporting is the critical mechanism that exists for accountability.  Don’t take the arms trade back into the dark!

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