30 August 2012, Vol. 5, No. 4

Balancing the old and the new
Katherine Prizeman | Global Action to Prevent War

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As the discussion moved from general statements to consultations on the revised drafts of the outcome document on Wednesday morning, a central debate emerged related to how to balance reiteration and re-commitment to the “old” language of the UN Programme of Action (UNPoA) with infusion of “new” forward-looking language that addresses challenges related to national implementation that introduces concepts and recommendations not explicitly found in the original 2001 document. Incorporating language in the outcome document that enhances the UNPoA’s implementation is imperative to its continued and strengthened relevance in preventing and reducing armed violence.

Commenting on the consultations conducted by four facilitators appointed by the President during the inter-sessional period between the March Preparatory Committee and this Review Conference (RevCon), the delegate of Guyana noted that member states must strike an appropriate balance between UNPoA language and “new” language with a view towards better and more effective future implementation. These “new” recommendations and concepts must be incorporated into the outcome document in order to enhance implementation through tangible efforts to review not only progress made, but also identify gaps and challenges. As noted by the delegation of Japan, it is important to address “new” challenges that have arisen over the last 11 years.

Balancing the “new” and the “old” does not necessarily threaten the ability to review progress made on the existing provisions of the UNPoA nor does it require a “re-negotiation” of the UNPoA as some delegates seemed to claim. Rather, as aptly noted by the delegate of New Zealand, pursuing this ‘balance’ is a matter of adding energy and focus to implementation efforts by taking into account new and ongoing circumstances and providing practical guidance on how states can move forward. “Looking back” is certainly a useful exercise insofar as states can analyze pitfalls, a point made by the delegate of Trinidad and Tobago. Nonetheless, the outcome document must be forward-looking, which can only be accomplished with an appropriate amount of “new” recommendations and concepts that promises to enhance practical, national implementation measures.

Some delegations expressed their concern over inserting “novel concepts” into the draft UNPoA implementation plan, in particular references to ammunition and parts and components. Many delegations, including the US, Syria, Iran, Cuba, Canada, and Algeria, spoke against the inclusion of these references in the UNPoA draft outcome document. These delegations stated that as such items are not explicitly covered in the scope of the UNPoA, it would be inappropriate and unhelpful to include such “new” concepts. The Syrian delegate referred to the UNPoA as an “exhaustive document” adopted through a rigorous process of consensus. However, its inconsistent and incomplete implementation, not to mention its insufficient effects on global levels of armed violence, demonstrates that neither the document itself nor its implementation is exhaustive.

With this in mind, many other delegations expressed strong support for new or strengthened language. CARICOM, Peru, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, Norway, and Kenya noted that many of the “new” references in the draft documents relate to issues that reflect the concerns of many states and refer directly to evolving national implementation priorities. The concern of some delegations regarding the possibility of “opening up” the UNPoA to a new round of negotiation should be alleviated by the understanding that the inclusion of “new” concepts, such as addressing regulations and administrative procedures related to ammunition and parts and components under national implementation represent priorities for many states and do not necessarily “open up” the document to new negotiations. As the delegate of New Zealand explained, the inclusion of these concepts in the implementation plan at the national level provides a framework for states to deal with challenges that they have already identified as significant.

The discussion over “reviewing” the UNPoA is also significant. The delegation of Cuba stated that the mandate of the RevCon must be to review progress made in implementation of the UNPoA through sharing national experiences. Likewise, the delegate of Egypt stressed that the mandate of the RevCon is to review progress accomplished by states. While this is a valid part of the work to be done by the RevCon, it is not sufficient on its own. The delegation of China, among others, noted that the outcome should not just include “stock-taking,” but must also be forward-looking and provide guidance for states. Areas for improvement must be identified, which will require that member states look beyond a verbatim reiteration of the 2001 document. The Swiss delegate underscored that the outcome document must highlight objectives identified by delegations and adopt necessary measures to allow full implementation, in particular when it comes to bridging technical and capacity gaps.

While it is important to understand that ensuring full implementation of the UNPoA is the ultimate goal of this RevCon and subsequent meetings, this requires due attention to shifting, additional, and revamped themes and priorities that reference but do not necessarily duplicate the framework adopted in 2001. A simple reiteration or relisting of the measures provided for in the original document is not sufficient. If gaps and challenges are to be effectively identified in this RevCon, it is necessary to include “new” language that adequately addresses these “new” priorities in the context of a continuously changing security environment.

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