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Small Arms Monitor, Vol. 8, No. 5

Editorial: Real change requires real commitment
10 June 2016


Ray Acheson

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The Chair has issued a fifth draft outcome document, but as with all discussions on the document this week, it is only being discussed in informal meetings. Civil society representatives are not allowed to attend these discussions. This makes it difficult to follow the development or regression of the document or to feed into discussions in a helpful way. While the UN Programme of Action and International Tracing Instrument are agreements made by states, their implementation is crucial for citizens of every country in the world. It is regrettable to have so little scope for civil society engagement in the UN small arms control process, both for the advancement of arms control and disarmament and the advancement of UN transparency and member state accountability.

Civil society was, as usual, given only one time-slot to speak during this meeting. During the presentations on Thursday morning, Baffour Amoa of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) noted that while some progress has been made, “care has given way to callousness, protection has given way to betrayal, and development has given way to insensitive destruction.” It is in part the dislocation of the diplomatic process from the challenges faced by states and civilians around the world that led Instituto Sou da Paz and Reaching Critical Will to publish a critique of the UNPoA in 2014. We recognised that as a national framework for action, “the UNPoA was and remains an essential guiding document, and many countries could benefit greatly from taking it more seriously.” However, we argued that the international approach to small arms control tends to revolve around the lowest common denominator, with little chance to advance beyond the 2001 programme.

The latest BMS6 draft outcome document may defy this trend. It seems quite strong in many respects and contains many useful guidelines and recommendations that we as WILPF hope are retained. It remains to be seen what will actually be adopted, but as it stands there is an unprecedented amount of material that could be helpful in advancing the small arms control agenda, including around development and gender. However, even if it is adopted as it stands now, a document is only a piece of paper if it is not effectively implemented or built upon. Furthermore, it can be undermined by contradictory policies and practices, as we have written about the last few days in terms of excessive production and irresponsible arms transfers.

The exclusion of civil society from the conference room, coupled with a reticence of states to address key challenges such as production, ammunition, and the seemingly routine overruling of arms control commitments by economic or political interests, makes it difficult to see how the outcome of meetings such as this will translate into progress outside of the UN conference room.

Real change requires real commitment, not just words. It requires a process that is driven by humanitarian concern rather than economic profits from arms sales or manipulation of geopolitical power struggles. It requires concrete action by many actors at many levels. The more perspectives heard and challenges raised at the international level, the more likely this process can develop guidelines that will effect real change regionally, nationally, and locally, for people everywhere.

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