10 September 2012

Outcome document adopted by consensus, but lacking in ambition

by Katherine Prizeman, Global Action to Prevent War
After the President of the UNPoA Review Conference (RevCon), Ambassador Ogwu of Nigeria, provided a third revision of the draft outcome document on Friday afternoon, delegations were able to adopt, by consensus, the compilation document. While this accomplishment was hailed as a success, particularly after the failure of the 2006 RevCon, states must use the next six-year review cycle to achieve more in the way of practical implementation.

This outcome document is composed of a declaration, implementation plans for the Programme of Action (UNPoA) and International Tracing Instrument (ITI), and a follow-up mechanism detailing a future schedule of meetings to guide the UN small arms process. As expressed by the President in her closing remarks to the Conference, the successful completion of the RevCon with a consensus outcome is a welcome achievement in helping to create positive momentum in the multilateral disarmament fora. The fact that member states were able to engage (for the most part constructively) and adopt a consensus document indeed represents a positive reaffirmation of the importance of the UNPoA framework to international peace and security and, more specifically, combating the scourge of illicit trade in small arms and light weapons (SALW). Undoubtedly, the UNPoA remains the only global framework of practical measures for combating illicit trade in SALW.

Many delegations took the opportunity to praise the work of the Conference on Friday afternoon, including the representative of Mexico, who noted that this success represented a significant step forward since the first RevCon in 2006, and the German delegate, who welcomed the outcome as a “landmark” document. Similarly, the delegation of Switzerland affirmed the document as an impetus for success in the area of disarmament that is “crucial to the work of international peace and security.” While it is true that this RevCon can be hailed as a general success, due in large part to the great skill and dedication of the President as well as the four facilitators, the RevCon on the whole did not thoroughly take stock of progress achieved nor did it provide for an in-depth assessment of implementation to date in order to draw lessons for the future. As has been previously expressed in this Monitor, a reiteration of previous UNPoA or ITI commitments is not sufficient. The various components of the review cycle, including this RevCon, should be integrally linked so that they can incrementally build upon the specific findings and discussions of the preceding debate in the context of the current security circumstances. As noted by the delegate of the UK in his concluding remarks, although the RevCon achieved a significant success in the consensus document, “ambition” in the document was left wanting.

The third revision, and subsequently adopted text, was identical to the previous version with the exception of a paragraph in Annex 1 (under the UNPoA implementation plan) referring to the risk of diversion in the context of export authorizations which was deleted. Following the adoption of the document, many delegations expressed regret over the lack of inclusion of certain elements as well as weak language on others. In particular, many delegations noted with regret the exclusion of language on a gender perspective in UNPoA implementation (EU, Germany, Mexico,) as well as on munitions (Colombia, ECOWAS, Guatemala, Switzerland), parts and components (EU, Ghana, Guatemala, UK), and a lack of strong language on diversion (CARICOM, Trinidad and Tobago, UK). Also missing from the document were strong references to monitoring and assessment and evidence-based research on implementation as the text refers only to measurability in the context of international cooperation and assistance. Moreover, there were no references to monitoring and assessment of casualties of armed violence through which states could better understand the effects of illicit use of SALWs. Rather, such language was weakened to “enhancing their ability to monitor and analyze the consequences of the uncontrolled spread of illicit small arms and light weapons and their misuse”—not an altogether terrible substitution, but weaker nonetheless.

While the document was hailed as “fair and balanced” and the best possible representation of consensus, states must use the next six-year review cycle to achieve more in the way of practical implementation. Moving forward, the ongoing discussion of how to ensure full and effective implementation of the UNPoA will persist, as many delegations called for a return to the many issues previously mentioned that were not addressed in this RevCon. More difficult, however, will be the ongoing struggle to convince some delegations of the difference between “reviewing” the UNPoA in order to strengthen its implementation by applying a fresh context in light of changing dynamics and circumstances, and “re-writing” the UNPoA itself.

Prior to adopting the outcome document by consensus, the delegate of Iran stated that although his delegation would not “stand in the way of success,” the document was unsatisfactory as it “lacked clarity and accuracy and at times went beyond the scope of the PoA.” The representative of Syria echoed this sentiment when he shared “reservations” about certain proposals adopted in the document that “were not in the PoA.” Likewise, the delegation of Cuba called references to resolutions related to women as well as the term armed violence “selective and outside the specific framework of the PoA.” This central debate—how to balance reiteration and re-commitment to the “old” language of UNPoA with infusion of “new” forward-looking language that addresses challenges related to national implementation that introduces concepts and recommendations not explicitly found in the original 2001 document—is absolutely crucial to future success. Finding this balance is imperative if the UNPoA can continue and even strengthen its relevance to ending the scourge of illicit trade in SALW.

If left unresolved, it is expected that the “confusion” over the distinction between re-writing and strengthening implementation will continue to challenge the process and undoubtedly limit the effectiveness of the subsequent meetings of the review cycle. Adoption of the latter approach—limiting and constraining the process to only that which is explicitly found in the 2001 document—is precisely what future review meetings must seek to avoid.

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