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28 August 2015: Vol. 8, No. 5

Editorial: A context of peace and prevention for the ATT
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF


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By the end of the day on Thursday, the first Conference of States Parties (CSP1) of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) had taken decisions on all of the issues before it, including the location and head of the secretariat; management committee and budget issues; reporting templates; a programme of work for the intersessional period; and the bureau for CSP2. While most of these items are infrastructural and procedural, they do have implications for how effectively the Treaty might be implemented moving forward. On the question of transparency, unfortunately, states parties failed to meet real life needs.

After many consultations on the draft reporting templates, of which four drafts were produced before CSP1, the facilitator of the working group recommended that the final draftbe considered provisional until the next CSP. States parties took note of these provisional reports, which they may use over the next year. In the meantime, a working group will undertake to develop improved reports based on states’ experiences with these drafts as well as with other initiatives such as the Baseline Assessment Project.

While it is a relief that states did not adopt the reporting templates as final products, the provisional templates are concerning. States that want to improve transparency around the international arms trade, and most civil society groups, are very concerned that the provisional templates are woefully inadequate and too closely tied to the voluntary and incomprehensive reporting practices of the UN Register on Conventional Arms.

States can choose not to report on arms transfers because of concerns related to “commercial sensitivity” and “national security”. They do not even have to indicate whether they have withheld this information. States do not have to include information on both authorizations and actual arms transfers, nor do they have to share both value and volume of the transfer. They can report on small arms and light weapons (SALW) in aggregate, rather than having to explain what types of SALW they are transferring. 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.

Of course, civil society and others will continue to glean information from public resources, and technology is moving 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.

Many states parties have indicated their support for public reporting—both in the conference room and outside of it, through a public action led by Control Arms in which delegations had their photograph taken to demonstrate support for bringing the arms trade out of the shadows through public reporting. The failure of CSP1 to adopt robust, comprehensive reporting templates that meet the needs of effective Treaty implementation is disappointing and must be corrected at CSP2, which is to be held in Geneva in 2016. The working group process leading up to CSP2 must be more transparent and inclusive with regards to civil society participation than the process that lead to the provisional reporting templates.

CSP1 is over, but implementation of the Treaty is just beginning. Arms transfers are still continuing—transfers that states know will contribute to death, injury, rape, displacement, and other forms of violence against human beings and our shared environment. As we conduct intersessional work and turn our focus to implementation, we must all act upon the ATT not as a stand-alone instrument but as a piece of a much bigger whole. ATT implementation must be firmly situated in wider considerations of conflict prevention, resolution, and peacebuilding. The ATT, as we have written before, could help prevent atrocities, protect human rights and dignity, reduce suffering, and save lives. But to do so effectively, states parties need to implement it with these goals in mind. Each and every transfer must be measured in the strictest way against the risks. Every state must think of the Treaty in the context of peace, justice, and human rights, not profits and political manipulation. If they were to do so, the arms trade would look substantially different than it does today. It most likely would not exist at all.

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