ATT Monitor, Vol. 12, No. 9

Turning from the final report to implementation, let’s make the ATT a treaty that save lives
30 August 2019

Ray Acheson and Allison Pytlak

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The Arms Trade Treaty's (ATT) Fifth Conference of States Parties (CSP5) concluded on Friday afternoon by adopting its final report. The participants broke at mid-day to spend time in informal mode negotiating a set of paragraphs related to financial matters, but were in the end able to reach agreement on that set of issues, as well as on decisions and recommendations for taking forward work related to the Treaty’s gender and gender-based violence (GBV) provisions.

Implementing the Treaty’s gender provisions

Following many months of sustained and focused discussion about gender, GBV, and the arms trade, ATT states parties adopted a package of decisions on the final day of CSP5 that will hopefully serve as a foundation to strengthen implementation of article 7(4) of the ATT, enhance gender diversity, and enhance understanding of the gendered impact of armed violence.

The president’s non-paper, which had been the basis of discussion since January, was incorporated into the final report of CSP5 as paragraph 22. The final version dropped the earlier suggestion that “a GBV question could be considered for inclusion within templates for Annual Reports during the next review of those templates.” It also reversed the ordering of paragraph 22(b)(iii). As well, continued work on article 7(4) is highlighted in the context of ongoing work on articles 6 and 7 by the Working Group on Effective Treaty Implementation (WGETI) in paragraph 25 of the final report.

In the course of adopting the report, South Africa suggested changing the mandate for states to “discuss their practice in interpreting the language and standards entailed in article 7(4)”, to an “encouragement” to do so. South Africa also proposed replacing “gender issues” with “gender-based violence” in the context of paragraph 22(c)(i) for cohesion with article 7(4). Despite concern from Ireland and Finland about the first of these proposals, especially given the chapeau to the paragraph already indicates these are items for consideration. However, in the interests of reaching consensus they did not block the suggested amendments and the paragraph was accepted.

In the context of the points on gender balanced representation to and participation in future CSP meetings, Poland explained that it will always base its delegation on expertise, which may not lead to gender balance because more men than women are employed in its arms control division and felt that it or others who do this should not be stigmatised. The President said this is not about stigmatisation but that if states do not consider this issue it will never change.

Adopting these decisions is a solid outcome overall with tangible and specific points of action, some of which are embedded in the Treaty’s existing working methods, such as the Voluntary Trust Fund (VTF) and the WGETI. There are also practical suggestions, such as the development of a voluntary training guide, best practices exchanges, and discussions about relevant language and standards. If implemented, this should serve to strengthen implementation of the GBV risk assessment provision and shine a spotlight on an issue that is otherwise often overlooked and deprioritised.

The “if implemented” is important, because putting all of this into practice now requires commitment, follow-up, and focus. The use of qualifiers like “encourage” and “should” and “voluntary” does leave open some space for those with reservations on this subject to prevent progress. One of WILPF’s concerns throughout this process has been a lack of clarity about oversight and responsibility for some of these actions, and the ensuing potential for them to fall through the cracks. We have also highlighted in statements and publications that the understanding and knowledge that accumulates within ATT conference spaces as a result of these recommendations must be channeled into policy and programming at local and national levels, so as to have real impact. This point was emphasised in particular during a Small Arms Survey side event on Thursday, in which women working in both gender and arms control in Nigeria and Burkina Faso offered their views on the local-to-global disconnect. Other disconnects have also been highlighted this week, including by states parties themselves, such as needing to better inform and educate licensing officers about the GBV risk assessment obligation, or to improve synergy with the Women, Peace and Security agenda or human rights community.

Yet, the foundation has been laid and commitment is there on paper. As stated by WILPF at the same Small Arms Survey event, “we are not going anywhere”.

Financial considerations

This was also the message from several Latin American and African states during the consideration of the financial aspects of the CSP5 final report. Concerned about the division between developing and wealthy states parties described yesterday in this newsletter, some delegations continued to push back on the imposition of possible restrictions on their access to assistance and sponsorship.

Costa Rica and Guatemala raised concerns with a number of paragraphs in the final report that related to the application of financial rule 8.1(d), which says that various rights of states parties may be revoked if they are two or more years in financial arrears. The application of this rule comes through in the following paragraphs:

  • Paragraph 23 of the final report welcomes the work of the VTF as reflected in its report. This report includes a paragraph (18) that states any project proposals received from a state that is two or more years in arrears “is unlikely to be given positive consideration by the VTF Selection Committee.”
  • Paragraph 29 of the final report welcomes the report on the status of operations of the Sponsorship Programme. Paragraph 30 relatedly says that after consideration, CSP5 adopted the Draft Administrative Guidelines for the Sponsorship Programme, including the protocol to guide the selection process. These Guidelines, in Annex A, paragraph 2 of the Selection Criteria, state, “If there are insufficient funds available to sponsor all the applicants that are eligible to be selected for sponsorship following the application of the above considerations, priority will be given to applicants from States who are in compliance with their financial obligations under the ATT.”
  • Paragraph 34 says that CSP5 “expresses deep concern about the unpaid contributions of States and called on States that have not done so to address their financial obligations in a prompt and timely manner. The Conference highlighted the risks that the ATT process and its essential activities, including the organization of future ATT meetings, will face if the situation is not addressed.”

Discussion on each of these paragraphs was interrelated. Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ghana, Guatemala, South Africa, and to some extent Mexico raised concerns about the increasing threat of restricting or limiting states’ access to ATT resources, assistance, and possibly other rights related to voting and participation. Meanwhile, the European Union and some of its member states individually emphasised that non-payment of assessed contributions has led the ATT to a point of extreme financial difficulty, the only solution to which is for all states to fulfil their financial obligations. The counter-point to this made by several delegations is that by restricting access to the VTF or Sponsorship Programme, it will be even harder for those states in arrears to catch up—it will undermine those in government systems arguing for more support for the Treaty, and make it more difficult to implement the provisions of the Treaty itself. The representative of the Dominican Republic gave an example on this point, noting that when his country was behind on payments, the VTF selection committee was reluctant to grant it money for a project. But it is only because they did accept the project proposal that the political system in the Dominican Republic became more supportive and understanding of the Treaty, so that it is now widely accepted throughout the government and pays its dues on time.

Fuller coverage on each of the points raised in this discussion can be found in the News in Brief section of this newsletter. But the bottom line is that many of the African and Latin American states participating in CSP5 are concerned that developing countries struggling to meet their financial obligations under the Treaty are being punished by wealthier European states that do not have any trouble in paying their contributions on time. The representative of the Dominican Republic warned, if we continue in this direction, the ATT is going to turn into a very exclusive club. Highlighting the challenges of the Conference on Disarmament, which has limited membership and has not conducted any substantive work in more than twenty years, he argued that ATT states parties seem to be rowing backwards, not forwards, in terms of implementation and universalisation of the Treaty.

Civil society was not permitted to attend the informal consultations, so we only know of the outcome of those discussion. States participating in those negotiations reached agreement on a package of amendments to the relevant paragraphs of the final report. The details of these amendment are described in the News in Brief, but essentially a compromise was reached in which language has been added to the report that says “no state shall be prejudiced by rule 8.1(d) in applying for support from the VTF or Sponsorship Programme, until CSP6 when this matter will be discussed.” So, if a state has not paid its dues, it will not face any restrictions in applying for project grants or sponsorship to meetings this year, but the discussion on this matter is going to be taken up again next year.

What does all this mean for the arms trade?

With a solution, albeit possibly a temporary one, to the question of limiting states’ access to Treaty resources, and agreement on how to take forward the gender aspects of the Treaty, CSP5 was able to conclude successfully, and within the timeframe scheduled for the meeting. In the disarmament world, this is considered to be a relatively significant victory these days. It does show that while negotiation and compromise are difficult, they are possible. States with different priorities, perspectives, and experiences can work together to reach agreement—even if none of them are fully satisfied with it.

This practice seems much more challenging when the two countries with the biggest arms trade, the biggest militaries, and the biggest nuclear arsenals are in the room. Whether it is the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons discussions on autonomous weapons, or implementation of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty’s provisions on nuclear disarmament, or consideration of pretty much every disarmament topic at the UN General Assembly First Committee, these two countries tend to throw spanners in the works more than anyone else. As an activist movement that participates in all of these forums and works with a grassroots network around the globe, WILPF is concerned with the ways in which the urgency for disarmament action in local and national contexts is often stymied by the lack of diplomatic compromise at the international level. We need governments to work together in the interest of humanity, not put their own interests of economic and military power ahead of everything else.

The adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty was a moment of celebration for people around the world who truly believed this Treaty would have a meaningful impact on their safety and security. That it would stem the flow of weapons destroying their lives and livelihoods. As delegates leave CSP5 and go back to their capitals or their missions in Geneva or New York, we hope they can reflect upon what this Treaty is for, who it is for, and work over the next year to ensure that this instrument is living up to its full potential as a treaty that saves lives.

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