WILPF's statement about the review of the ATT Programme of Work to the Preparatory Meeting of CSP9

The Working Group meetings and First Informal Preparatory Meeting of the Ninth Conference of States Parties (CSP9) to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) took place in Geneva on 14–17 February 2023. WILPF delivered a statement under the discussion about the review of the ATT Programme of Work.

17 February 2023
Delivered by Laura Varella

The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) welcomes the Management Committee’s (MC’s) preparation of the Background Paper reviewing the ATT Programme of Work (ATT/CSP9.MC/2023/MC/747/PM1.BackgrPaper), and takes note of other recent efforts which consider the impact of the Treaty’s processes and forums, such as the 2021 report by SIPRI, Taking Stock of the Arms Trade Treaty: Achievements, Challenges and Ways Forward .

WILPF believes that the current Programme of Work which consists of established working groups and intersessional preparatory meetings, presents several positive attributes. For instance, the working groups allow states parties and other stakeholders to engage in discussions that are more detailed and focused than is usually possible during a single annual formal meeting. Having an intersessional work programme helps to alleviate some of the pressure off of the annual conference of states parties, both politically and practically. Additionally, the frequency of interaction contributes to building community and strengthening relationships, and enables information exchange and consultation, as well as the generation of several tools and guidance notes, as noted in the Background Paper.

We would also like to acknowledge and reinforce support for the inclusive manner in which civil society has been involved in the ATT’s Programme of Work. The inclusive format of the meetings, the low barriers for access, as well as the possibility of having panels with expert speakers and presenters, builds on the collaborative spirit and environment in which the ATT was negotiated and adopted ten years ago. We therefore expect that any modifications to the Programme of Work do not impede this open, transparent, and inclusive approach, particularly at a time when civil society access is under threat across the multilateral and UN system.

However, WILPF is concerned with some aspects of the current Programme of Work and we acknowledge the challenges described in the Background Paper. The same resource and time constraints that pose an issue for states parties and signatories also affect the meaningful participation of civil society stakeholders, particularly those from the global South.

Beyond the challenges identified in the Background Paper, WILPF wishes to register a few additional points on this theme:

Although it is positive that the Programme of Work has generated many tools and guidance documents, we would encourage states to take stock of those resources and how they are being used, what their impact has been, etc. in order to assess the utility of continuing to develop new tools. It would also be important to ensure there is no redundancy with similar resources generated by the ATT Secretariat, or civil society groups. Building on this, some of the practical alternatives outlined in the Background Paper (i.e. reducing the number of meetings, or number of days of meetings, or reconfiguring the Working Groups) should be taken forward with a view to how the outputs of meetings are being utilised and the impact of discussions had.

Another concern is that the discussion during the ATT meetings has become more technical and more administrative over time. We hear less from those impacted by arms transfers, or there is very little consideration or discussion about the human rights and humanitarian impacts of the arms trade. Given the review of the ATT Programme of Work, this is an opportune moment to evaluate if and how the existing programme of work contributes to the real-world impact that the ATT was meant to have.

In this vein, we wish to reiterate a point WILPF has made in past—one that has been expressed by other members of civil society, and at times, a few states parties—that the ATT Programme of Work does not offer a forum in which to address concerns about current and ongoing arms transfers which may violate compliance with articles 6 and 7. A lot of time during meetings has been given to other aspects of Treaty implementation—many of which are very important—but the topic of transfers of concern has been consistently avoided. The only time that specific transfers and contexts are addressed are during side events or statements from civil society.

If discussing these issues in plenary is not something that states would be open to do, we would encourage them to look at other processes and forums to find a format that could work. For example, the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) peer review could be instructive. Other ideas would be to hold an extraordinary meeting, or develop a new subsidiary body. What cannot happen is the continuation of silence over ongoing, problematic arms transfers being made by some state parties. As RCW’s former Manager, Allison Pytlak, said: “As turning a blind eye becomes standard practice in ATT meetings, the original aspirations that drove the Treaty’s process — and are embedded in its text — become farcical and erode the instrument’s credibility.”

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