11 October 2004 - Second Edition

Rhianna Tyson | Reaching Critical Will


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With the firm chairmanship of Ambassador de Alba and self-restraint by Member States in respect of time limits, the general debate ended several days short of schedule, allowing for hearty, interactive, off-the-record debates. These debates focused on two main themes: the implementation of resolutions and reform of the First Committee. (See First Committee Reform report.)

With the recognition that all activities of the Committee should be as transparent as possible, the Committee agreed to allow NGOs to observe their off-record debates. This agreement corroborates with other recent, albeit small, gains made by disarmament and nonproliferation NGOs, including the February 12th decision by the Conference on Disarmament, and the correct interpretation of NPT Rule 44.4 at this year’s PrepCom, which granted NGO access to the cluster debates for the first time in NPT history.

Fully cognizant of this particular gain in the First Committee, NGOs contributing to the Monitor will not be attributing statements and sentiments expressed during these off-record debates to any particular country; rather, our mission here is to convey, in general terms, proposals, suggestions and ideas broached at this 59th session.

On Wednesday, the first of the interactive sessions began with a report from Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Nobuyasu Abe, on the ways in which the Department for Disarmament Affairs (DDA) works to help implement resolutions adopted by the General Assembly.

One of the DDA’s tasks is to compile reports from Member States submitted in response to GA resolutions. The DDA submitted 24 reports in the 58th session, 13 of which contained the views of individual Member States on specific issues, as requested by the relevant resolutions. Yet the actual number of reports submitted by Member States was exceedingly low. Oftentimes only a handful of Member States offered reports; even co-sponsors of the resolution which requested the reports often did not respond to their own request.

The Under-Secretary-General’s remarks solicited a wide range of responses and provoked a number of interesting questions. What is the purpose of reporting? What are the incentives to do so? What is the value added of reports when Member States make their views widely known, either through co-sponsoring or voting for or against resolutions?

Several States discussed the possibility of establishing a monitoring body, a mechanism by which the implementation of resolutions could be measured. Yet who would comprise this mechanism? Who, it was asked, would monitor whom?

Suggestions on improving the rate of reports were given, including the reiterated suggestion that the DDA offer a format for reporting, or a framework with specific questions to be answered, similar to the way in which the Counter Terrorism Committee solicits reports. It was also suggested that the DDA could perhaps provide a more comprehensive conceptual analysis of reports, one that could identify gaps in the implementation process as well as possible consequences of implementation, thereby providing incentive and direction to future resolutions.

Others argued for a broader scope of reports, suggesting that bodies other than Member States could submit reports on relevant resolutions, including the Disarmament Advisory Board and NGOs.

Still others perceived a sense of exculpation from reporting, noting that resolutions, which do not undergo the type of heavy negotiations of treaties, do not therefore beget the sense of “ownership” that treaties can command.

These thoughts provoked a discussion on the value of resolutions and their status within the body of international norms and laws.

Do resolutions carry, as argued by some, normative and moral value, even if they are not legally binding like Chapter VII Security Council resolutions? Do consensus-based resolutions carry more normative and moral weight than those adopted by majority vote?

What are the implications of votes? Is a State bound to comply with a resolution, even if it had voted against it? What implications does that have for State sovereignty, and notions of national interest which direct how a State votes in the first place?

With such complex and crucial questions, it is important to remember that, as highlighted by some, there is no need for consensus now. These interactive debates serve as substantial food for thought which should form the foundations for further discussions.

Privy to these debates as we were, NGOs are now asking Member States: what can NGOs do to fulfill some of these calls? The DDA clearly operates within significant political constraints, as do all the departments and offices of the Secretariat. Non-governmental organizations, on the other hand, could be called upon to present the type of analytical reports requested by so many Member States. NGOs can also help to identify gaps in the implementation process and offer forward-looking recommendations, thereby strengthening the efficacy of the UN as a whole.

At the very least, NGOs, such as those contributing to the First Committee Monitor, can contribute to the institutional memory of the First Committee and other international disarmament fora by recording and reporting on the work of Member States. Croatia was one of many that “consistently recognize the growing beneficial role that civil society plays in the field of disarmament... their committed and insightful coverage of our deliberations in the international fora, including the First Committee, may give additional impetus to initiatives to break the deadlock and finally move the multilateral disarmament agenda forward.”

- rhianna@reachingcriticalwill.org" style="color: rgb(142, 95, 189); text-decoration: none; ">Rhianna Tyson,
Reaching Critical Will

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