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6 September 2012, Vol. 5, No. 8

Strengthening implementation, not rewriting the Programme
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF


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During Tuesday’s discussions on the draft declaration, the Syrian delegation questioned a phrase in paragraph 7 that says states “resolve to tackle” the remaining challenges for full implementation of the UN Programme of Action (UNPoA) and the International Tracing Instrument (ITI). The Syrian delegate argued that states first have to identify what these challenges are and then propose solutions to tackle them. This should, of course, have been the key exercise of this Review Conference: to identify challenges and determine how to overcome them. Unfortunately, this crucial work has not been undertaken at this conference. Furthermore, attempts to strengthen future reviews have also been undermined by skepticism of some delegations, which will only hurt the UN small arms process going forward.

As noted by Marcus Wilson’s article in Small Arms Monitor Vol. 5, No. 6, this conference has reviewed its draft outcome document, not implementation of the UNPoA or ITI. One could argue that the preceding cycle of meetings—two Biennial Meetings of States (BMS) and one Meeting of Governmental Experts (MGE)—undertook a review of the relevant instruments’ implementation. Indeed, the MGE did an excellent job of highlighting challenges as well as opportunities for further progress in implementation of the ITI. The Chair’s summaries of the MGE and the two BMS provide instructive information and reflection on the elements necessary for the UNPoA and ITI to achieve success in their objectives.

Unfortunately, some delegations have expressed reservations with making any reference to the outcomes of these meetings. Iran and Cuba called for the draft declaration, for example, to simply note that these meetings took place without any reference to the need of following-up on their outcomes. Other delegates thus questioned the point of holding meetings at all if their outcomes cannot be used or built upon later. It is a relevant question to keep in mind while working on this RevCon’s outcome document, especially its implementation plans for the UNPoA and ITI.

A cautionary note has already been sounded with the delegation of Cuba objecting to the use of “implementation plans” for the relevant aspects of the RevCon’s draft outcome documents. On Tuesday, the Cuban delegation argued that the UNPoA itself sets out its implementation plan and therefore new plans are unnecessary. Of course, the original UNPoA was adopted in 2001. Eleven years later, there are many new dynamics, technologies, tensions, and opportunities to strengthen that implementation plan, which is the core objective of any review conference, especially one that seeks to address practical implementation measures, the success of which are inherently dependent on changing circumstances and dynamics.

While most delegations are taking the opportunity of these two weeks to draft a robust strategy for the years ahead, some governments have remained skeptical about referencing anything that they view as going “beyond” the UNPoA. Unfortunately, this has also meant that many of these delegations have opposed language referring to documentation, measurability, assessments, evaluations, or indicators. Most vocally, Algeria, Brazil, Cuba, Iran, and Syria called for deletion of many such references, arguing that they are vague or that they are beyond the scope of the UNPoA.

However, as the Swiss delegate emphasized, in order to be able to review achievements or identify challenges in implementation, the international community needs tools to gauge its progress. Switzerland argued that every time states have the opportunity to strengthen the monitoring of progress that has been achieved, it is a good idea to do so. The Mexican delegation likewise supported the added value brought to implementation by the establishment of monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.

Tools that allow the international community to monitor and measure implementation also allow it to assess and evaluate the impacts of both problems and solutions. Such mechanisms should not be viewed as threats to state sovereignty but rather as tools to increase the effectiveness of implementation strategies, which will ultimately save resources while more efficiently achieving the objectives of the instruments in question.

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