by Katherine Prizeman, Global Action to Prevent War
Thursday’s formal discussions showcased the strong efforts on the part of both the President of the Conference, Ambassador Ogwu of Nigeria, and delegates to reach consensus on a final outcome document for this UN Programme of Action (UNPoA) Review Conference (RevCon) by tomorrow afternoon. At the opening of the afternoon session prior to moving into informal consultations with the facilitators, Ambassador Owgu urged delegates to not become part of the “culture of failure”. As noted by the delegate of New Zealand in the morning session, consensus in this process is critical and achieving consensus at this RevCon is particularly significant for several reasons—to “heal the damage from 2006,” to help move the UNPoA into a new phase of practical implementation measures rather than strictly continuous debate over political norms, and to contribute to multilateral disarmament writ large.
The delegations of Japan, Germany, the Holy See, South Africa, Peru, the United States, Botswana, and others supported the document and called for its adoption in its current form. Many other delegations supported the document but also expressed disappointment over certain aspects of it, in particular either the omission or weakening of specific issues. Such issues included ammunition, diversion, brokering, armed violence, measurability, monitoring, evaluation, gender perspectives, arms embargoes, victims’ assistance, and development (see the News in Brief for details).
Some delegations modulated their dissent. The delegation of Peru, for instance, urged that the issues of brokering, munitions, and diversion be taken up in future UNPoA meetings. Likewise, the delegate of CARICOM stated that although ammunition, diversion, and border control do fall under the mandate of this Review Conference, these issues could be raised in the future and their inclusion should not necessarily serve to block the current text. The representative of Ecuador similarly noted that munitions and parts and components should be considered in the future.
Other delegations raised more severe concerns, implying the presence of “redlines,” over either the structure of the document as a whole, including the document’s titles, or the inclusion of issues that delegations simply cannot accept. The representative of Syria stated that if consensus could not be reached on the remaining “controversial issues,” those references should be stricken from the text so that delegations could adopt it. In a similar vein, the delegation of Iran noted that all references to issues “not in the PoA” be taken out. Specifically, the delegate called for the deletion of references to the “new notions” of national resources trafficking, national action plans, human rights, armed violence, measurability and monitoring, and border control. The delegate of Venezuela also drew attention to the “new concept” of natural resource trafficking and the representative of Cuba questioned the legal status the text would enjoy. The issue of the format of the document also continued to be debated as the delegations of Cuba, Iran, the Arab Group, and Syria expressed their discontent with the title “Declaration” for the first section of the outcome document and reiterated their proposal that the Declaration be turned into a preamble.
As stated by the New Zealand delegation and supported by the representative of Liberia, it is imperative that in the remaining hours left to negotiate this outcome document, proposed changes be confined to two categories—changes that would help improve the clarity of the text or changes related to substantive “redlines” that would stop delegations from joining consensus adoption of the outcome document. Nevertheless, there is a danger that must be underscored in this context. While delegations seek to find common ground and adopt a consensus document through continued refinement of the text’s language and negotiation on substantive issues, the text must not and should not be weaker than the UNPoA itself, a point made by the delegations of France and Belgium. For example, as noted by the representative of Belgium, since diversion is already addressed in the UNPoA, failing to mention it in the outcome document would represent a step backwards. In such an instance, the outcome document would not only fail to contribute meaningfully to the full implementation of the UNPoA over the next review cycle, but it could well detract from what has already been accomplished since 2001 through a weakening of existing commitments.
Informal consultations continued throughout the afternoon and into the evening on how to reach consensus by Friday afternoon. Delegations must bear in mind that a viable outcome document must be a strong corollary to robust implementation measures and not the means to justify a retreat on existing UNPoA commitments. This RevCon must not provide a forum for retreating from UNPoA measures when it should be moving states forward in tackling implementation challenges. Furthermore, delegations must keep in mind the danger of reverting exclusively to UNPoA text. Such an exercise could render the review conference and its outcome meaningless. As Burundi’s delegation argued, so-called “new” concepts are essential to moving the implementation process forward.