Reviewing for the Purpose of Strengthening the PoA on Small Arms

23 Mar

After a week-long session of the Prep Com for the August Review Conference on the Programme of Action (PoA) on small arms discussing thematic issues such as international assistance and cooperation, follow-up mechanisms, and the International Tracing Instrument (ITI), member states must now channel their efforts towards concrete preparations for a successful second Rev Con in just over five months time. A key discussion among member states on Thursday was determining what exactly the mandate of the forthcoming Rev Con stipulates—to review progress made on the implementation of the PoA or to also strengthen its implementation in addition to reviewing it. The discussion over what on the surface may seem to be a small difference in wording is critical to the long-term success of the PoA and, ultimately, combating the deadly effects of the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons (SALWs).  This distinction is also crucial to the formal small arms review process at large. Reviewing and strengthening cannot be decoupled activities as they both, in tandem, contribute to controlling the spread of illicit SALWs.

The discussion initiated around wording contained in the introductory paragraph of the Draft Report describing the mandate of the forthcoming Rev Con. The discussion began when the representative of Algeria stated that the mandate of the Prep Com does not explicitly include a reference to strengthening or enhancing the PoA and, therefore, member states should only consider the strengthening task if the mandate explicitly indicates this function. A solution was found by including the direct quotation from General Assembly resolution 66/47, which states: “…at the second review conference, to review progress made in the implementation of the Programme of Action, and, subject to the agenda of the conference to be agreed by the preparatory committee, encourages them to explore ways to strengthen its implementation…”

Although a way was found to move forward on the Draft Report, the larger question of ‘reviewing’ versus ‘strengthening’ deserves more attention.  Concerns by members states over expanding the PoA, such as seeking coverage for ammunition or to make it a legally-binding instrument, is a separate and potentially larger and more animated conversation. Furthermore, reviewing implementation of the PoA is not an end in and of itself and, therefore, cannot be conducted in a vacuum. The review process must serve a larger goal—the goal of strengthening implementation of the PoA’s provisions in national contexts so that all member states, in the context of their individual national constraints and unique needs, can more robustly prevent, combat, and eradicate the illicit trade in SALWs.  As was stated many times by delegations over the course of the week, particularly during the debate on international assistance and cooperation, the Rev Con and relevant meetings (including possible future MGEs) should serve as forums to review PoA implementation in order to better exchange information and views on best practices and lessons learned to strengthen its implementation.

The concern of some states that the PoA will ‘overstep’ its bounds and become a different type of instrument, whether due to its shifting legal status or its expanded scope, is a valid one that merits a robust and productive discussion among diplomats. Although there were calls this week by some delegations to have ammunition included in the PoA and ITI, there was clearly no consensus on this issue. Moreover, this Prep Com was not necessarily the appropriate forum for vetting such proposals given the time constraints and the distinct mandate to prepare the agenda for the August Rev Con. As such, as it stands now, the work of the upcoming Rev Con must focus on improving and strengthening what already exists in the PoA and ITI—a strong set of provisions and comprehensive frameworks at the national, regional, and international levels for eradicating the illicit trade in SALWs.

The hope is that the PoA would at some point become a legally-binding instrument or that it might also include ammunition such that the multi-dimensional, disastrous consequences of the illicit trade in SALWs would be more effectively prevented. Advocating for an expansion of the PoA is important and should not be overlooked in the Rev Con. Nonetheless, this ‘separate, but equal’ debate should not cloud the purpose and mandate of the August Rev Con, which is to review progress made in implementing the PoA in order to identify ways in which member states can strengthen their national implementation practices and better prevent the illicit trade in SALWs.

–Katherine Prizeman


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