ATT Monitor, Vol. 11, No. 3

Editorial: From recognition to action—making the ATT work
22 August 2018

Allison Pytlak

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“Recognition is insufficient without action,” said one delegation during the session about Treaty implementation at the Fourth Conference of States Parties (CSP4) to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The words were in reference to how the subject of gender and the ATT’s potential to prevent gender-based violence (GBV) is often treated—a lot of recognition of the problem, even more recognition of the ATT’s potential to address it, yet very little much tangible action toward doing so. It is proving to be an area where there is insufficient knowledge or experience within the arms control community about how to incorporate consideration of this problem into risk assessment practices, demonstrating the huge gaps that remain between the individuals and communities that work on these issue.

Yet, these words could be applied to other aspects of ATT implementation, a topic that was the focus of discussion during CSP4’s second day of deliberations.  In fact the ATT was designed in recognition of a shared and borderless challenge that the global community needed to confront—namely, the humanitarian harm and suffering wrought by the unchecked spread of arms.  Dozens of statements given during Monday’s general debate recognised again and again this problem—sometimes with reference to specific national concerns such as crime, violence, or impact on development, but usually in more general terms—and they also repeated again and again the merits of the ATT and its potential as a solution.  

Now we need the action.

This, in theory, should be reflected during the part of CSP4 that considers the topics of implementation and its thematic focus on diversion, universalisation, transparency and reporting, and international cooperation and assistance.  Has it?

The plenary session on Tuesday included a report back from the Switzerland, as chair of the Working Group on Effective Treaty Implementation (WGETI) and the facilitators of its three sub-groups. The sub-groups have focused on Article 5; Articles 6 and 7; and Article 11. From all accounts, the groups have been productive and the overall approach of a working group system is a good one that enables continuous work and dialogue.  The experiences from other treaties indicates that this approach will likely lead to more fruitful conferences of states parties. The groups have made proposals for the conference to consider and hopefully adopt; which seems likely to occur given the tone of the session on Tuesday.

However, neither in the WGETI or at CSP4 has there been any meaningful discussion on how Articles 6 and 7 are being applied by states or even more broadly about how concerns stemming from international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL) are impacting on arms transfer decisions. This is a dangerous and possibly deliberate oversight in accountability that must be addressed in order to guarantee the Treaty’s credibility and more importantly, save the lives that it purports to set out to do.

There has been a lot of emphasis in statements on the efforts that some states parties are making to establish national control systems, or ensure their national laws are up to snuff and in line with Treaty provisions. For many, there are understandable challenges that come along with doing so, relating to technical, financial, and human resource constraints and gaps. The efforts being made to overcome these hurdles are impressive and will hopefully continue to be fostered through support and interaction with other states and experts in civil society.

At the same time, there are other states parties that already have these systems in place. Waiting for the rest of the world to catch up cannot be an excuse or a distraction for acting irresponsibly and not rigorously applying IHL and IHRL considerations in export decisions. Providing support and capacity building cannot likewise be a smokescreen for decisions and policies that run contrary to ATT obligations. 

Returning to gender-based violence, there has not been any reporting back in statements as to how national risk assessments are expanding and changing to consider the risk that a transfer may lead to GBV. Guidance and knowledge-building resources have been developed in the last few years by WILPF and the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) that seek to explain what gender-based violence is and its connection to the international arms trade; outline possible indicators to consider or key questions to consider; and sources of information. At the third Conference of States Parties (CSP3), Ireland put forward a working paper on the subject to help raise its profile amongst states parties. This work is now being expanded on by others including through the launch of a new report at CSP4 on Wednesday. We strongly encourage all conference participants to attend and learn how to move from mere recognition of the problem to actions and solutions.    

Click to read the summary of day two at CSP4. 

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