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CSP preparatory committee: Vienna

Report by Gabriella Irsten, Reaching Critical Will of WILPF
20–21 April 2015, Vienna

From 20–21 April 2015 states met in Vienna for the third round of informal consultations for the first Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) Conference of States Parties (CSP1). They discussed key issues related to the rules of procedure, permanent secretariat, financing, and reporting. The meeting was attended by ATT states parties, signatories, civil society, and industry representatives.

The meeting revealed the efforts of some of the major arms exporters to limit civil society participation and access to the CSP, by promoting closed meetings and a fee for civil society participation.

The first formal Preparatory Meeting for the CSP1 took place 23-24 February 2015 in Port of Spain. Port of Spain concluded by approving four facilitators to conduct consultations on rules of procedure (Mexico), secretariat (France), financing (Ghana, assisted by Australia), and reporting (Sweden). The Vienna meeting was constructed around these fours facilitator’s working papers.

Rules of procedure (RoP)

In Port of Spain the biggest disagreement was over participation, in particular participation of civil society and industry. While there is a general support of active participation of civil society the issue of differentiating between NGOs and industry organisations was the main issue of disagreements. Some states believe that NGOs that have been a supportive and active force pushing the Treaty forward should be separated from industry, which might have a more skeptical look of the Treaty’s objectives and aims. While there was still some disagreement on this issue in Vienna, the side stressing the importance of separating the groups was not as vocal as in Port of Spain. Costa Rica, South Africa, CARICOM, and New Zealand highlighted in particular that a distinction has to be made between the two.

Other issues within the category of participation was whether or not civil society should only be able to speak during a designated civil society session or during normal plenaries. While the EU and its member states strongly advocated for a dedicated special NGO session in Port of Spain, in Vienna they had changed their view and now promoted civil society’s participation during plenary. This change of view created a majority agreement, however Japan, Italy, and Australia argued that civil society and industry should only be able to take the floor once the list of speakers have been excused.

There was a longer discussion on how states parties, signatories, and non-signatories will be able to participate in the CSPs, particularly with regard to their ability to make decisions. There was a general consensus that states parties and signatories should have similar participating status except for when it comes to decision-making, which should be limited to state parties. This is an unusual proposal since it puts states parties and signatories on almost the same level.

In addition, UK, Italy, France, and Lesotho called for including non-signatories in the CSP to support universalization and transparency. This had also been widely agreed upon in Port of Spain. France stressed that in light of this major players such as China, Russia, and India need to be able to participate for the Treaty to be truly effective. Lesotho expressed the need to not prevent non-signatories from participating in order to promote membership.

The other big discussion was around voting rules. The majority supported that the Conference should aim at taking decisions by consensus, but that voting must be allowed if consensus is not possible. However, substantial differences remain on how to determine when consensus has not been reached and what the process should be to request a vote. Suggestions comprise including a deferral period of 24 or 48 hours before a decision is taken to a vote; during this deferral period the chair would work to try to find consensus. France was the most vocal on criticizing the idea of voting, arguing that voting should only occur in extreme circumstances when all other measures have been tried. South Africa and Ireland highlighted the importance of having a voting mechanism when consensus cannot be reach in order to hinder deadlock. Ireland warned that we should learn form experiences in other disarmament processes.

Costa Rica, Norway, Jamaica, United Kingdom, and CARICOM did not support the deferral suggestion, arguing that such a mechanism could protect the status quo or hamper decision-making. Switzerland raised concerns about the deferral clause, asking how it would work in practice when for example it is raised on the last day of a meeting. Japan, France, and the United States were the major supporters of the deferral clause. In the end there was no agreement on the issue of deferral.

There was also a difference in opinion about what voting rules should apply. Different rules for substance, procedure, and financial matters were proposed. Australia, United Sates, and Ireland supported a ¾ vote; CARICOM supported the same for amendments. 1/3 was suggested by Poland on substance. Simple majority vote was supported by Poland, South Africa, and Uruguay on procedural matters. 2/3 was suggested by South Africa, Uruguay, Japan, Switzerland, and Italy on substantive matters.

Another issue concerned having open or closed sessions for civil society and industry. While the majority agreed on having an open CSP for everyone, the difference in opinion concerning subsidiary bodies was big. US, France, UK, Australia, Italy, and Japan supported closed subsidiary bodies with a possibility to invite others if needed. South Africa, Uruguay, and New Zealand were against closed sessions due to upholding transparency of the ATT process. Uruguay highlighted that if countries want to have private meetings they could do so in the margins of the meetings. Ireland, Austria, and Sweden believed that a case-by-case approach should be applied depending on the issues discussed.

Permanent Secretariat

In Port of Spain, delegations raised that the number of staff for the Secretariat should be matching with their tasks. Many delegations felt that the tasks defined in the treaty are sufficient at this stage and that a staff of 3-5 would be enough for this. CARICOM argued that we first need to outline lists and functions before we decide on number of staff. There was growing support for establishing a Secretariat committee that will deal with the set up of the Secretariat.

For the Secretariat, three different possibilities have been identified:

  • A Secretariat anchored to the United Nations;
  • A Secretariat anchored to an existing organization, but linked to the United Nations (a “hybrid”);
  • A stand-alone Secretariat.

France, the facilitator of the Secretariat committee, identified a number of questions that need to be answered by delegations in order to decide on one of the models. These include the size of the Secretariat, the administrative arrangements, the funding model, and governance.

The main discussion was around the institutional framework, including how independent the Secretariat should be from the UN. The majority of states seem to support the hybrid model. CARICOM, New Zealand, Guatemala, and the United Kingdom leveled criticism against the stand-alone Secretariat, arguing that it has not been fleshed out as much as the other options. The United Kingdom also stressed that if the Secretariat and CSP is held outside the UN the host country should pay the difference of the costs.

Sweden suggested that if we decide to go with the option of linking the Secretariat to the UN we need to outline a clear agreement with the hosting organization that the ATT Secretariat is only responsible to the ATT states parties and not all UN member states.

Other issues that were briefly discussed included the credentials committee, transitional states (a proposal from Trinidad and Tobago that those countries who ratify the Treaty less than 90 days before the first CSP and for whom it would not therefore have entered into force could still participate in the CSP as states parties), and whether or not the annual CSP should be on a rotating schedule.

In the margins of the Vienna meeting, Mexico (Provisional Secretariat) started informal consultations on how to resolve the seat of the Secretariat since it has become clear that they want to avoid a vote on this issue. The candidates are Port of Spain, Vienna, and Geneva.

Financing

There is a general agreement on a hybrid model that consists of both assessed and voluntary contributions for the core costs, i.e. for the Secretariat and for the preparation and holding of the CSP. The contribution would be assessed in accordance with the UN scale of assessment, adjusted to take into account the difference between the UN membership and the number of participating states in the CSP. The suggestion also includes a sponsorship programme based on voluntary funds for developing countries. Japan, the largest donor in accordance to the UN Scale of Contributions, continued to stress the importance of introducing a cap to be placed on the amount that any one state party will contribute. Sweden was not convinced of introducing a cap since there is consensus to establish a small Secretariat and the funds needed do not merit a cap. France did also not support a cap and found it unprecedented.

The main controversy that took place within the financial session was the United States’ suggestion that civil society and industry should pay a fee to be able to participate in the CSPs. The US delegations said that if civil society wants to speak and participate in the CSP they should bear the cost of doing so. Another argument put forward was that a fee would discourage “un-serious” civil society actors from participating in the CSPs. This proposal was supported by France, Finland, and Japan. There was a strong opposition against this proposal, in particular from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Guatemala, Mozambique, Nigeria, Lesotho, Guatemala, South Africa, Lesotho, Nigeria, Austria, Thailand, Ireland, Comoros, New Zealand, and CARICOM. They all stressed that charging civil society would discourage participation, especially organizations from developing countries, and run counter to inclusiveness and transparency. Many of those critical of the proposal also highlighted that there is no precedent for this in any other UN processes.

Germany and Japan added that further consideration is necessary in order for them to create a final opinion on the matter.

Issues that still need to be figured out in relation to finance is location of the Secretariat and a list of financial activities, including what is associated to core versus additional costs. Many delegations asked for real estimation costs and figures should be included in the working papers in order to guide the discussion.

Reporting

In Port of Spain it was decided that the first report is due 31 May 2016. Sweden, the reporting facilitator, introduced a first draft of the reporting template prepared by the Baseline Assessment Project (ATT-BAP). Most states supported the suggestion of following the categories of the UN Register and including small arms and light weapons. France and Poland expressed their concerns with the inclusion of parts and components. The United States and the United Kingdom expressed concerns about reporting on the monetary value of transfers. France, Belgium, Argentina, UK, US, Australia, and Colombia stated that it is important to make it clear what is mandatory to report on and what is voluntary. Portugal believes it is best to keep the reporting as close as possible to the UN register.

Conclusion

In comparison to the preparatory meeting in Port of Spain, this meeting seemed to have more agreement between states although some issues still need more discussion, in particular secretariat, financing, amendment, and deferral.

The biggest change in participation at the preparatory meeting was that this was the second meeting in which the United States and industry participated. Participation by the US delegation seemed to influence other delegations to take a more conservative view, which we could already see at Port of Spain.

France, the United Kingdom, and the United States supported both closed subsidiary bodies and civil society fees. The latter is an unprecedented suggestion. These three states are big supporters of industry participation. Industry actors would clearly have no problems paying a fee while organizations that are non-profit would. With this in mind it becomes clear that trying to establish these rules is a way of hindering transparency, inclusiveness, will undermine accountability and insight into the arms industry, which is going against the main objectives and purposes of the Treaty.

It is also a way for some states to control which organizations can and cannot attend, and makes the assumption that only well-funded organizations are “serious” actors. These “new” issues of hosting closed meetings and having NGOs pay seems to have a link with the US participation in the preparatory process. The increased support for signatory states to have almost the same participation status as states parties is also likely a product of lobbying by the US delegation.

Another issue that could affect the implementation of the ATT is the danger of lowering the standard of state party membership in the name of universalization. The discussion of universalization is important, however, almost-equal participation of non-signatories and non-states parties that are not legally bound to adhere to the Treaty means these states will have too much access or influence to stall and hinder robust implementation of the ATT. In order to build norms around the ATT, the states parties and signatories must also be able to stigmatize irresponsible arms transfers.

The next Preparatory Meeting for the CSP1 will take place in Geneva, Switzerland on 8-9 July 2015. This will be the last preparatory meeting before the CSP1 in Mexico, taking place 24-28 August 2015, and many of the pending issues will have to be agreed on in Geneva.