Second Arms Trade Treaty Conference of States Parties: Big on Process, Light on Substance

Stimson Spotlight

Second Arms Trade Treaty Conference of States Parties: Big on Process, Light on Substance

By Rachel Stohl:

In a meeting that symbolized a stark contrast between the humanitarian crises occurring around the world and the comfortable and scenic gathering of governments committed to stopping irresponsible arms transfers, more than 500 people representing Arms Trade Treaty States Parties, signatories, industry, and civil society representatives met in Geneva from August 22-26 for the Second Conference of States Parties (CSP2) to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The ATT is the first global treaty to regulate the international trade of conventional weapons and seeks to ensure that governments attend to a number of risks — including human rights concerns — when making arms transfer decisions. It currently has 85 States Parties and an additional 47 signatories, and several signatory and observer states have signaled their intention to join the ATT in the near future.

CSP2 represented the second time that ATT stakeholders came together to discuss the treaty’s effective implementation. The first CSP was held last August in Cancun, Mexico under the leadership of Ambassador Jorge Lomanaco of Mexico. This year’s meeting was attended by 109 governments, with Ambassador Emmanuel E. Imohe of Nigeria serving as President and Costa Rica, Finland, Montenegro and New Zealand serving as Vice Presidents. At the conclusion of CSP2, Finland was appointed as the next CSP President and Australia, Bulgaria, Guatemala (after October 10), and Sierra Leone were appointed as Vice Presidents.

While CSP2 presented an opportunity for states to discuss substantive issues pertaining to current impacts and implications of global arms transfers, the meeting unfortunately maintained a steadfast focus on administrative issues. Indeed, in a week that was devoid of a sense of urgency even as the United Nations called for an independent inquiry on human rights violations in Yemen, ATT States Parties adopted several decisions that will hopefully move the ATT from a piece of paper to a meaningful instrument, as CSP2 spent the week focused on administrative functions of the treaty.

The CSP established three working groups: one on transparency and reporting, one on treaty universalization, and one on treaty implementation. The mandate of each of these groups will be reviewed at the next Conference of States Parties and a determination on their future operation and their Chairs will be decided at the discretion of the CSP President. Reporting and transparency were hoped to be key discussion areas during CSP2, as issues of reporting went unresolved following CSP1 — including the lack of an agreed template for reporting on measures to implement the treaty as well as on annual arms exports and imports. Governments at CSP2 agreed to endorse and recommend the use of reporting templates developed by a previously established working group, though kept the option open to update the templates in the future. To date, 53 states have submitted their initial report but only 46 states have completed their annual reports.

Additional administrative functions that remained unresolved following CSP1 included the selection of a permanent head of Secretariat for the treaty. In August 2015, CSP1 selected a provisional head of the Secretariat, Dumisani Dladla of South Africa. At an Extraordinary Meeting in February 2016, states made some decisions about the operation of the Secretariat, including the hiring of two additional staff. At CSP2, Dladla was confirmed as the permanent head of Secretariat and it was announced that he will commence in hiring the rest of the Secretariat staff.

States Parties also established a Voluntary Trust Fund, as described in Article 16.3 of the treaty. Thirteen governments volunteered to serve on the selection committee of the Voluntary Trust Fund, which will provide assistance to those requiring help implementing the ATT.

The only mention of substance related to the arms trade was presented by Control Arms — an international coalition of civil society organizations – which offered papers to the Conference on the arming of Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen. Zambia also gave an impassioned plea to stop talking about bureaucracy and focus on the conflict and crises around the world.

In the end, however, diplomats spent an entire week discussing bureaucratic and administrative processes related to the treaty, but did not devote any time to the discussion of actual transfers that violate or undermine the treaty despite the fact that more than 45 governments have submitted their first annual report on arms exports and imports. The third Conference of States Parties will be held in Geneva from 11-15 September 2017. One hopes that with the administrative and bureaucratic measures largely out of the way, CSP3 will finally be able to focus on the key issues of implementation the ATT was meant to address.
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Rachel Stohl is the director of the Conventional Defense program at the Stimson Center.