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9 July, Vol. 7, Ed. 4

Editorial: Remember humanity
Ray Acheson and Mia Gandenberger | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF


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After three days, states participating in the final preparatory committee for the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) first Conference of States Parties (CSP1) had not reached agreement on all the items on their agenda. Many questions remain unanswered even as discussions have become more concrete this time. Disagreements over transparency, reporting, and the location, structure, and staff of the Secretariat remain, with the latter keeping matters such as finance hostage. There are also some concerning developments in the draft rules of procedure, which will be further discussed at CSP1. 

While substantial work has been undertaken and some decisions reached, states appear to be in danger of getting lost in the details and losing sight of the goal of preventing human suffering from the effects of the international arms trade. While every country has national interests that might affect their position on particular arrangements for ATT implementation and future meetings, they have already accepted the ATT itself and now must live up to their obligations.

Rules of procedure 

The rules of procedure saw several revisions during the preparatory committee. One of the most controversial issues was over the nature of civil society participation. The latest draft distinguishes between international coalitions of NGOs and associations representing industry on the one hand and representatives of civil society including NGOs and industry on the other. In the final draft circulated at the meeting, only coalitions and associations were permitted to attend CSPs in full while everyone else could only attend plenary meetings. Reportedly this was a mistake that will be amended in a revised draft, which is forthcoming, to indicate that the parameters of participation are the same for all civil society actors. Both groups may deliver statements at plenary meetings, receive official documents, and submit their views in writing. Both must apply for participation at least 20 days before the beginning of the session.

This is a welcome amendment. However, a distinction between international coalitions and representatives of NGOs in the rules of procedure seems overly prescriptive and unnecessary. International coalitions working in partnership to implement disarmament treaties are extremely useful for bringing civil society actors together to promote these treaties and support states in fulfilling their obligations. In the context of the ATT, a number of organisations and institutions have made constructive contributions to the process without being members of a coalition. As states prepare to make final decisions about the rules of procedure at CSP1, they should be cautious not to differentiate between their access to relevant meetings. 

To ensure transparency and equity, all meetings of CSPs should be open to states parties, signatories, and observers, including civil society and industry. This includes extraordinary sessions, subsidiary bodies, and intersessional meetings. Furthermore, within these meetings, all those wishing to make interventions should be able to be added to the speaker’s list at any point. The current rules indicate that observer states can only speak after states parties and signatories, and other observers can only speak after that. This type of hierarchy of speaking will undermine an interactive dialogue.

In terms of decision-marking, the current rules of procedure suggests that the President of the CSP can defer action on a decision for up to 24 hours if consensus cannot be reached on matters of substance, and that if consensus is not possible, the Conference can make a decision with a two-thirds majority vote. But as Control Arms has argued, “It is clear that the Presidents of CSPs will be required to strive for consensus” and that a specific rule on deferral “will place unnecessary strain on what will already be a very tight CSP schedule,” noting that any potential for delay or veto undermines efforts to reached decisions effectively or efficiently.

This latest draft will serve as the basis for discussion at CSP1, where states parties will have one day to address any issues around consistency or language. No major substantive changes are expected, though it is imperative that the civil society participation issue be addressed. 

Transparency through reporting 

The ATT is supposed to prevent human suffering by ensuring common standards for decision-making around arms transfers on the basis of international humanitarian law, human rights, peace and security, and other related issues. Yet the Treaty itself contains only a lackluster provision on transparency. There are two mandatory reporting requirements in the Treaty: an initial report on measures taken to implement the Treaty and an annual report on authorised or actual exports and imports of conventional weapons. As Reaching Critical Will reported during the ATT negotiations, “States are not required to release their reports publicly, meaning civil society and international and regional organisations will not have access to the information that is crucial for determining trends, challenges, or achievements in treaty implementation or in the arms trade in general. Furthermore, states are not required to report on activities other than import and export; on items other than those covered in article 2(1); or on ‘commercially sensitive or national security information’.”

Of course, civil society and others will continue to glean data and information from public resources, and technology is moving the world towards a situation where it will be more difficult for states to keep transfers secret. But public reporting would go a long way to helping develop a culture and permanent architecture for transparency. Some delegations such as Lithuania and Ireland argued that reports should be public by default. In that connection, Costa Rica, Denmark, Lithuania, Netherlands, and Switzerland welcomed a “tick-box” option, through which a government can optionally make a report public and indicate on the form whether it has done so.

It is also disappointing that the draft reporting templates discussed at the preparatory committee do not live up to even the minimal standard of transparency set out in the Treaty. After several rounds of revisions, the latest draft template for both reporting requirements now covers all elements of the Treaty, whether or not they are binding obligations. However, providing information on non-binding elements is voluntary. Furthermore, the templates have lost their original depth and now simply include a series of tick-boxes indicating yes or no and no longer requiring explanation or specificity. With regards to reporting on articles 6 and 7, states parties only have to indicate that they have a risk assessment procedure and then tick boxes for the elements included. States parties will also have the option of giving aggregate value numbers on imports and exports rather than volume, for reasons of “state secrecy”.

As Control Arms argued in its intervention on reporting, states should provide a comprehensive picture of their arms transfers. They “should aim to include information on both authorizations and actual arms deliveries. The size of the transfer should include the number of units as well as the financial value. Providing states with an option to report on small arms and light weapons (SALW) by aggregate will not sufficiently meet transparency needs, thus states should report separately on each category of SALW.”

Not all countries were supportive of adequate transparency. France and Italy warned against elaborate reporting templates that might deter states from joining the ATT. However, others called for more detail, with Hungary inquiring about the sections contained in previous drafts on reporting on brokering and transshipment and Argentina suggesting that the templates include voluntary reporting on best practices to avoid diversion. Robust reporting, many states and Control Arms argued, will not deter states from joining the treaty. On the contrary, comprehensive reporting templates will establish a strong precedent of transparency, which will help states build confidence in the Treaty.

States parties agreed to consider a revised draft of these reporting templates for adoption at CSP1, “with the understanding that some further adjustments would probably be needed in the light of practical experience and that the templates would constitute initial pilot versions.”

Secretariat

The ATT Secretariat will help states parties implement the Treaty by, among other things, receiving and making available reports, matching offers and requests for assistance, and organising conferences. France as facilitator for the Secretariat issued a discussion paper outlining options based on three different models. Yet there remains little consensus on many points, including functions, staff size, administrative arrangements, funding, and governance. As Nic Marsh of the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) has written, it is difficult to discuss how the Secretariat will function without knowing where it will be located, but it is also difficult to choose a location without knowing the costs associated with the functions it might undertake.

The three candidates for hosting the Secretariat are Austria, Switzerland, and Trinidad and Tobago. On Wednesday afternoon all three candidates had the opportunity to present their candidate host cities, Vienna, Geneva, and Port of Spain, outlining the broad terms of their offers to host. This had been suggested by a number of states, brought forward by the UK delegation.

This came after the Chair of this preparatory committee and provisional secretariat, Ambassador Lomónaco of Mexico, had engaged in bilateral consultations with states parties on the location of the Secretariat by conducting a secret survey of delegations preferences. Throughout the conference he managed to consult with all those attending and announced he would reach out to those the states parties whom where unable to attend the meeting. According to the Chair, the great majority of those delegations he talked to already had a preference for the location. Once the consultations are complete it is his intention to approach the candidate with the least votes and encourage them to withdraw their candidature to narrow the choice.

Meanwhile, Lomónaco’s suggestion to establish a temporary, interim Secretariat while states parties continue seek agreement on a more permanent arrangement is stop-gap measure that does not resolve the issues at play. States parties agreed to consider the appointment of a Head of Secretariat for a period of one year “with the understanding that a full-scale merit based selection process would be launched prior to the CSP2 which would conclude with the selection of the second Head of Secretariat once the Conference has decided on all the conditions related to the position.” States parties agreed to consider for adoption a draft directive for the Secretariat at CSP1.

The current discussion and papers on the Secretariat do not take sufficiently into account the potential contributions of civil society. Control Arms pointed out that the ATT Secretariat needs to have “sufficiently flexible bureaucratic procedures to allow it to take advantage of offers of support and cooperation.” Its location, structure, and staffing “should all be based on what will provide the most effective support for the implementation of the Treaty.”

Finance

The debate on finance focused mainly around the three areas the co-facilitators had identified as outstanding, namely decision-making on matters with financial implications, caps, and the establishment of a budget committee. Additionally, many of the financial decisions are dependent on decisions on the Secretariat and thus are on hold until progress is made on that issue.

Throughout the discussion it became clear that a creation of a budget or management committee along the lines of the Japanese proposal resonated with the majority of states. The co-facilitators will draft terms of references for a management committee, which will be considered for adoption at the CSP.

With regard to decision-making, most states suggested applying the same rules for matters with financial implications as matters of substance, including taking decisions by 2/3 majority. However, Japan continued to stress that decisions with financial implications should be made by consensus only. Should the management committee be created, Japan suggested it could submit reports on the financial implications before a decision was submitted for adoption.

On the matter of contributions, most states agreed on the UN scale of assessment for contributions adjusted in some way for the number of states parties as the basis for mandatory contributions. However the question of caps and minima proved to be more divisive, with mostly Western states in favour of introducing a base level and caps for contributions. Opposition to both concepts was more diverse with CARICOM, Guatemala, Portugal, Nigeria, Netherlands, Singapore, France, Republic of Korea, and Costa Rica not supporting the lowering of the upper cap and Nigeria, Austria, Singapore, and Costa Rica arguing that introducing a minimum contribution would affect low- and middle-income countries disproportionately.

Additionally, the idea of “pay to play” received some attention. While some states supported the idea of observers and / or signatories contributing to meeting costs, CARCIOM stressed that signatories and observers should not be called upon to make contributions, but should be encouraged to make voluntary contributions. More states seemed to support the proposal that signatories and observers contribute to the cost of additional translation and interpretation at CSPs, however.

 Fortunately, the idea of civil society organisations being requested to contribute to the meeting costs seems off the table. States like Ireland and Thailand expressed their opposition to the idea and Costa Rica highlighted that that there is no precedent for contributions to meeting costs from non-state observers. Additionally, rule 50.3, which could have made it possible, has been removed from the latest draft of the Rules of Procedure.

The Co-Facilitators on finance will work out and submit three different indicative budgets for the three different locations for the financial period until the next CSP for consideration at the CSP. To that end they will hold consultations during the third week of July in New York and if necessary the beginning of August in Geneva

Conclusion

The international arms trade is a multibillion dollar business that results in death and destruction and wreaks havoc with lives and livelihoods the world over. The ATT is the first international instrument that tries to reduce this havoc and the suffering it causes. It is thus frustrating that states parties and signatories have struggled for two years now to reach agreement on the rules, responsibilities, and parameters for their gatherings, reporting requirements, and implementation support structures. It is further frustrating that the course of discussions, and the some of the resulting agreements or draft texts still up for discussion seem to fail in establishing means and methods by which states, civil society, and other relevant actors can increase transparency, hold states to account, and reduce human suffering.

States parties should revisit the problematic aspects of the rules of procedure, including around civil society participation; demand more robust, mandatory and public reporting; and make decisions on the Secretariat and financing that will best facilitate the ATT’s effective and meaningful implementation. As Costa Rica’s delegation noted in its closing remarks, if states parties and other actors can come together to make decisions, the ATT will continue to consolidate itself as a very robust Treaty, in accordance with the dreams with which Costa Rica and others initiated the process.

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