RCW's report on the extraordinary meeting of the Arms Trade Treaty

Mia Gandenberger
1 March 2016 

On Monday, 29 February 2016, states parties of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) held an extraordinary meeting to agree on organizational matters with regard to the Secretariat and the second conference of states parties to be held in Geneva from 22–26 August 2016. The meeting did not consider substantive items, which unfortunately means it missed an opportunity to discuss possible violations of the Treaty by states parties, including continued arms exports to Saudi Arabia, which has been found to have engaged in “widespread and systematic attacks on civilian targets” in its use of explosive weapons in populated areas in Yemen.

Administrative arrangements for the Secretariat

In introducing the work under this agenda item, the Vice-President, Ms. Titta Maya of Finland outlined the proposal contained in documents WP.1/Rev.1 Annex A and Draft agreement with Switzerland. The ATT Secretariat would be structurally independent of its host, the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) and only rely on its administration support services.

Mexico recalled that any agreement between the host country, Switzerland, and the ATT Secretariat, concerning the administrative and logistical arrangements would not have to be discussed by the next Conference of States Parties (CSP). However, the Mexican delegation hopes the CSP President, Ambassador Emmanuel E. Imohe of Nigeria, will continue his consultations. Costa Rica and Peru regretted that they did not have enough time to review the proposal in capital and therefore requested more time before agreeing to it.

Others, including the European Union, Dominican Republic, Sweden, Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom, Czech Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Italy, and Nigeria supported the proposal. In addition, Sweden and the United Kingdom brought up the issue of possibly transferring the ATT Secretariat’s website to that of the Stimson Center’s baseline assessment project, which includes all the necessary functionalities already.

Some open questions regarding the Headquarter Agreement between Switzerland and the Secretariat were addressed in informal consultations during the lunch break. It was the common understanding that the extraordinary meeting would be in a position to adopt the necessary proposals in order to allow the interim Head of the Secretariat to begin his work, namely the Headquarters Agreement outlining the privileges and immunities of the ATT Secretariat and an agreement on the administrative, logistical, and organisational arrangements put in place by the host to house the ATT Secretariat. This will be subject to the silence procedure as contained in rule 41.3, with a deadline of 20 days.

Structure of the Secretariat

During the discussions on this agenda item, the majority of delegations taking the floor voiced general support for the proposal contained in Annex C of WP.1/Rev.1. With regard to the length of contracts, Finland, the United Kingdom, Sweden, South Africa, Nigeria, Italy, and Peru expressed support for a four-year term, with a possible option for renewal for one term. The United Kingdom and Peru noted in this connection it would be useful to provide some overlap between incoming and existing staff to allow the transfer of institutional knowledge and to avoid implementation gaps.

On the issue of what remuneration and benefit structures should be applied, Finland, Sweden, Nigeria, and Peru supported applying the existing UN Human Resources policies. In that connection Sweden suggested maintaining some flexibility to adapt the remuneration levels once the recruitment process is finalized. South Africa suggested benchmarking the remuneration to that of other treaty secretariats. The US however thought it would be best to proceed with the existing breakdown in Annex C.

The interim Head of the Secretariat, Mr. Dumisani Dladla, is currently employed until just after the second CSP, namely 30 September 2016. In order to avoid any gaps, New Zealand suggested extending his term until 1 December 2016, when the permanent Head could begin her or his work. South Africa, Nigeria, and Norway supported this suggestion.

In a similar effort to maintain continuity until all structures are put in place, Finland, Sweden, and Norway supported the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) continuing its role in assisting the Head of the Secretariat with logistical procedures. Côte d’Ivoire inquired if UNDP was still able to do so on a voluntary basis.  The discussion was continued under agenda item 3, addressing budgetary implications.

On a different note, Sweden questioned the adequacy of references to Article 5.5 of the Treaty in paragraphs 1.5 and 5.2 of Annex C. These were subsequently changed to refer to Article 5.6 of the Treaty.

After some brief informal consolations during the lunch break, a revised draft of Annex C was prepared. However, the main decisions as laid out by the Vice-President included the maintaining of the three positions at the levels outlined in Annex C and the extension of the term of the interim Head of Secretariat until 1 December. With regard to the Human Resource policies and remuneration package, the final report specified the UN staff policy would be tailored to that of DCAF and the size and needs of the Secretariat.

After some discussion during the adoption of the report and after an appeal to state parties’ sensibilities by the President, it was agreed that an Evaluation Committee consisting of both the members of the management committee and the bureau will proceed with the merit based recruitment process for the Head of the Secretariat as contained in paragraph 25 of the draft final report.

Budgets for the Secretariat and the CSP2

The President introduced Annex B of the proposed arrangements for the ATT Secretariat. Mexico requested a line about how much overhead would be included in the transfer to DCAF and also suggested a line showing Swiss in-kind contributions for the hosting of the Secretariat. The President agreed that in-kind contributions should be acknowledged and should be removed from assessed contributions.

With regard to the role of UNDP in supporting the Secretariat, the US, UK, and Finland welcomed the continuation of this support on the basis of cost recovery. In this connection, Finland suggested UNDP could continue to do so until CSP2. New Zealand thought it most practical if it did so until just after CSP2.

Mexico inquired about a possible estimate for the cost of UNDP continuing its work that way. While that was not clarified, Japan said it agreed to this proposal if no further cost was involved.

Sweden thought UNDP could play a continuous role as a partner for the Secretariat in organising conferences. The UK, however, stressed that with the new Secretariat in place, UNDP services will no longer be required and the US also cautioned against writing UNDP “a blank check” for further work. Sweden clarified that while UNDP’s special role in this first year of implementing the ATT must come to an end, its role as a service provider should not be ruled out. 

The agenda for CSP2 will be developed in two informal meetings in Geneva, allowing states parties the opportunity to suggest agenda items beyond what is envisioned by the rules of procedure. Points 3 and 4 under the agenda for the extraordinary meeting, which could not be addressed due to time constraints, are transferred to CSP2.


Under the matter of any other business, the facilitator on reporting, Ambassador Paul Beijer of Sweden, recalled that at CSP1 states parties could not agree on reporting templates and decided to continue work towards that end, but that until first reports had been submitted, further work had been put on hold. Now is the time for an informal working group to further refine the reporting templates. States decided that Sweden should continue its role as the facilitator of this work.

Some discussion arose in regard to the organisation of the work and action on the templates at CSP2. France, Belgium, and Australia, while stressing the importance of transparency, also called for flexibility on reporting under the Treaty and therefore suggested replacing “for adoption” in paragraph 1, with “for recommendation”. On a different note, Mexico called for open meetings of the group and the relevant changes to that effect in paragraph 2. The United States did not support this suggestion.

After informal consultations, the terms of references for the group were agreed to at the meeting. As a result of these consultations, the words “for adoption” were deleted in line three and in reference to action on the templates at the CSP. Further, a reference to rule 43 was included in line three after “At the request of a State Party” in paragraph 2. Finally, “agreed” was substituted with agreed in line two of paragraph 6. The facilitator will aim to organise the meetings of the group in conjunction with the two informal consultations of the preparatory process to be held in Geneva.


As the first of its kind, this extraordinary meeting of the ATT truly lived up to its name. While states parties could agree to the draft final report, this was at the end of extensive discussions on several paragraphs during a process that usually is no more than a formality.

Not only did the meeting not manage to address all issues on its agenda, such as the Voluntary Trust Fund, but it also failed to address the serious challenges to the ATT that arose in its first year of coming into force.

The civil society coalition Control Arms requested to table its report on arms transfers to Saudi Arabia that have been made by ATT states parties and signatories. The President’s response, however, was that the agenda was “loaded” and to introduce such an item without the adequate time to discuss it properly, “will be fraught with danger.” He instead suggested raising it during CSP2 under implementation of the ATT.

While the logistical matters at this meeting did require attention, it is a missed opportunity for ATT states parties and signatories to gather and not discuss an incredibly serious challenge to the Treaty. A UN panel of experts found in January that over 119 airstrikes made by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen had violated international humanitarian law. The report indicates that “the coalition had conducted airstrikes targeting civilians and civilian objects, in violation of international humanitarian law, including camps for internally displaced persons and refugees; civilian gatherings, including weddings; civilian vehicles, including buses; civilian residential areas; medical facilities; schools; mosques; markets, factories and food storage warehouses; and other essential civilian infrastructure, such as the airport in Sana’a, the port in Hudaydah and domestic transit routes.”

The Control Arms report names France, Germany, Italy, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States as having reported licenses and sales to Saudi Arabia worth nearly $25 billion in 2015 including drones, bombs, torpedoes, rockets, and missiles. These are the types of arms currently being used by Saudi Arabia and its allies for gross violations of human rights and possible war crimes during aerial and ground attacks in Yemen.

The use of explosive weapons in populated areas in Yemen harmed at least 6,100 civilians in 2015. Civilians made up 93% of all deaths and injuries from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas in Yemen. 

The European parliament has passed a resolution calling on EU member states to impose an arms embargo against Saudi Arabia, noting that the UK alone has licensed more than $3 billion worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia since it began bombing Yemen last March. Lawyers from the UK law firm Leigh Day, acting for the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), have filed a lawsuit against the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which approves arms export licenses, accusing it of failing in its legal duty to take steps to prevent and suppress violations of international humanitarian law. An all-party group of MPs has called for an immediate suspension of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia and an international independent inquiry into the kingdom’s military campaign in Yemen. Yet ATT states parties and signatories have so far failed to even discuss this ongoing crisis.

Additionally, states parties seem to be dragging their feet when it comes to reporting obligations. Out of the 61 states that are obligated to report, only 42 submitted reports before the deadline of 23 December 2015, which leaves 19 states that chose not to report. Given the resources available to states, including the provisional templates developed by the facilitator as well as the baseline assessment project questionnaires offered by the Stimson Center, this is concerning.

Transparency is crucial for the effective implementation of the ATT. Any conditions placed on it endanger the ATT and the goals it set out to achieve, most importantly saving lives and preventing human suffering.