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ATT Monitor, Vol. 12, No. 4

What will—and won't—be discussed at CSP5
26 August 2019


Allison Pytlak | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF

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During WILPF and Ireland’s recent workshop on gender, gender-based violence, and the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), Ambassador Karklins of Latvia reflected on a photo he had seen from the early days of the United Nations: rows and groups of men are seated around negotiating tables, with only a few (if any) women present, in a stark depiction of gender inequality and related social norms. We have all seen these types of images before in the annals of UN (and really all) history; indeed, an entire room at the World Trade Organisation features a series of such paintings in which women answer phones, get ogled, and bring coffee and files to busy-looking, pipe-smoking, wheeling-and-dealing men.

Fast forward to 2019. It would be great to say that these are Mad Men-like scenarios of the past, but we all know they are not. The gains made in gender diversity within multilateralism are not insignificant, but still a long way from ideal—particularly in disarmament and security, where many traditional gender norms around participation, power, and decision-making still hold.

Gender diversity is one part of a package of decisions and recommendations drafted by Ambassador Karklins in his capacity as the president of the Fifth Conference on States Parties (CSP5) to the ATT, which will hopefully be adopted by ATT states parties by the end of the conference and implemented thereafter. Gender and gender-based violence (GBV) have been the thematic focus for the ATT community over the last ten months, as other subjects such as diversion and the Sustainable Development Goals have been for past CSPs. This publication noted at the outset of CSP4 that gender has been an under-explored and lesser-referenced subject in the ATT context, particularly vis-à-vis the growing interest in it within other disarmament fora. As a 2015 WILPF study revealed, many ATT states parties were unsure how to approach and implement the Treaty’s criterion on GBV prevention for reasons ranging from access to relevant data to not understanding it as distinct from a human rights assessment.

The decision for gender and GBV to be the thematic focus for CSP5 is changing that. The ATT’s working groups, especially that on implementation, have enabled discussion between states parties and observers about agreed understandings of what is GBV; how the ATT obligations in this area align with human rights conventions and mechanisms and the Women, Peace and Security Agenda; the challenges of gathering, and need for, sex- and gender-disaggregated data; and not least, existing state practice and interpretation of ATT Article 7.4. A growing number of international and civil society organisations have begun to contribute research and guidance in this area or are organising trainings and side events with policymakers and practitioners.

The president’s draft decisions are divided across three categories: representation and participation; gendered impact of armed violence; and the GBV risk assessment criteria found in ATT Article 7.4. Within each category there are recommendations for states parties and other stakeholders to undertake, sometimes in cooperation with one another and others in the course of national policy. The document has come a long way since it its initial draft; but it needs some further adjustments to make it truly meaningful. It contains good and thoughtful recommendations, but there is a risk that if states are only “encouraged” to take certain actions, states parties will not do so. Follow-up and adherence will be crucial at the national level and within the ATT ecosystem of working groups and intersessional work, and will require the involvement of civil society, the ATT Secretariat, and other stakeholders. Moreover, the decisions and recommendations of CSP5 need to be better communicated to officials directly involved in arms transfer practice, to close the gap between them and policymakers. At the same time, future dialogue on gender and GBV in ATT meetings must be better informed by individuals with direct knowledge and lived experience. It will be interesting to see the degree to which delegations demonstrate diversity in this meeting, either in their representation within the room or consultation and input to statements delivered.

Beyond gender, the CSP5 will cover the usual topics of universalisation, implementation, and reporting and needs to take various administrative and financial decisions, which can often eat up a surprisingly large amount of the agenda. The working groups in each of these areas are putting forward various conclusions and resources for endorsement. In the area of universalisation, for example, a welcome package and universalisation toolkit is being proposed.

The Working Group on Treaty Implementation (WGETI) will seek endorsement on a “Voluntary Basic Guide to Establishing a National Control System” but the president also recommends suspending the work of the sub-group on Article 5 in order to focus on other ATT articles, in this case specifically Article 9 on transit and trans-shipment. The WGETI will also further expand its “List of Possible Reference Documents to Be Used by States Parties in Conducting Risk Assessments under Article 7” with new resources pertinent to Article 7.4; there is also a recommendation that in 2020 the Group take forward the development of a voluntary training guide on GBV. Several suggestions are being made for how to continue and step-up work around Article 11 on diversion.

Diversion has also been taken up by the Working Group on Transparency and Reporting (WGTR). In meetings held earlier this year, it decided to organise a first informal meeting in the margins of CSP5 to discuss “concrete cases of detected or suspected diversion that states parties are dealing or have dealt with as a solid basis for further exchanges”. An open meeting for all interested stakeholders will occur on Tuesday morning, while a closed session for states parties and signatories only is scheduled for Wednesday. The WGTR is also registering concern about the downward trend in annual reporting rates (although does not comment on the growing number of those kept private) and is outlining plans for outreach, capacity building, information sharing, and various mechanisms to make reporting easier.

Strangely—but no longer surprising—is that what we are unlikely to hear about at CSP5 is the international arms trade itself. Amid the guides, packs, plans, and budgets described above, there is once again no planned exchange in any format about the ongoing transfers of some states parties that are questionable at best, illegal at worst, and most definitely inhumane. In a year that has seen weapons perpetuate genocide in Myanmar, the violent undoing of Yemen, and bloody attacks on civilians in Cameroon, violations of core ATT obligations—including the role of transit states—are not being addressed at all in this space. This is in spite of high profile legal actions, protests, and debates about many of these weapons transfers. Instead, the ability of smaller or less-developed states parties to become Treaty-compliant—along with a host of administrative and procedural issues—is routinely spotlighted. This sends a message of double standards, in which the bad behaviour of larger and generally Western states parties and signatories goes unchecked and unscrutinised, as they divert attention instead to “helping” their smaller counterparts overcome their “shortcomings”, which are posited and framed as the real challenges to Treaty implementation.

This sets a narrative about who counts and what matters, and also largely reinforces and legitimises global arms trading by making countries better at doing it. The recommendation of the out-going WGETI chairperson for that group to focus in future on unpacking how states parties interpret key concepts like “facilitate,” “serious,” and “overriding” risk found in Articles 6 and 7 could potentially become a mechanism by which exporting states parties have to better explain their interpretation, and by consequence, their actions. But that seems a distant prospect, if prevailing power dynamics continue. Imagine if the same time and resources given to helping build national control systems was given to asking why certain exporters knowingly send weapons into situations of conflict, human rights abuse, or high levels of armed violence? This is not to say that the capacity building activities are not necessary, but it is to say that compliance is an issue for all, and it is not conditional.

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