10 September 2012

The final outcome document: a tentative step

by Eloise Watson, Reaching Critical Will of WILPF

Today’s global strategic environment is characterized by complexity, in which the problems posed by the illicit trade of small arms and light weapon (SALW) are amplified. It was therefore of cardinal importance that the 2012 UNPoA Review Conference conclude with positive results. The conference did achieve its goal of adopting by consensus a final outcome document emphasizing the renewed commitment of the international community to combating the illegal trade in SALW. Such success, as Ambassador U. Joy Ogwu, President of the Conference, explained, will help create the “much needed and timely momentum for positive movement in the overall multilateral disarmament process.”

However, although the final outcome document undeniably represents an achievement, the extent of the achievement is debatable. Clarion calls for strengthened and more ambitious language in the outcome document persisted throughout the Conference, and while some were acknowledged, many were not. Numerous states lamented this, including Kenya, United Kingdom, Ghana, Mexico, and Trinidad and Tobago; they conveyed their disappointment in the final outcome document’s minimal (if not entirely absent) language relating to the issue of ammunition, gender perspectives, prevention of risk of diversion, and the link between armed violence and development. The inclusion of such concepts would have led to a more focused and forward-looking final document since it would have more adequately addressed the ‘new’ challenges and priorities of states in today’s ever-evolving security environment.

In addition, the Conference did not go far enough in ‘reviewing progress made’ in the PoA’s implementation as a basis for drawing lessons for the future, nor did it place enough emphasis on mechanisms to increase the measurability and effectiveness of PoA implementation, and assessment of its impact. In order to plug the gaps in existing mechanisms and ensure the next six years of PoA activity is productive in its impact on small arms violence, the document should have more explicitly noted how to achieve the ‘clear and tangible results’ mandated by its Declaration. To this end, the section on ‘Schedule of Meetings 2012-2018’ in the final outcome document could have better emphasised the importance of ensuring practical and focused discussions on PoA implementation, as opposed to simply reiterating the instrument’s original commitments. 

Stronger references to measurability, evaluations, assessments, or indicators could also have helped bolster PoA implementation in the coming years; unfortunately, the preference of many states for such terms was buffeted by opposition from Algeria, Cuba, Iran, and Syria, among others, all of whom contested any reference that goes ‘beyond’ the scope of the UNPoA. In the words of H.E. Mrs. U. Joy Ogwu, the final outcome document ‘delivers no victors and no vanquished,’ and the Second Review Conference was an exercise in balance between those who wanted more and those who wanted less. However, the final outcome document is limited by its failure to include particular language relevant to today’s security situation, to satisfactorily assess PoA implementation to date, or to articulate the necessary tools for gauging progress in PoA implementation. Future meetings and conferences must take account of and respond to these inadequacies.

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