Archive | April, 2012

Information in the Times of New “Social Journalism”

26 Apr

Traditional media outlets have experienced constant alterations since social media forums became new, revolutionary tools of communication and interconnectedness. Social media outlets have been establishing themselves since the late 1990s turning journalism as we know it into “Social Journalism”.  A cooperation between in-depth research and the striving for objectivity on one hand, personal opinion and instant news gratification on the other.

Woody Lewis, a social media strategist defines a social journalist as a person with a “premeditated watchdog role who uses social media to communicate and collaborate with readers.” As the impact of social media emerges, conventional journalists representing print, radio, and TV are gradually losing their status of final authority or opinion-making on a specific subject. We experience revitalization and an overall new definition of writers’ and audiences relationships. Traditional journalists have to endure a critical audience and implement checks and balances for media representatives. While salaries within the traditional media market have been decreasing steadily and lifelong contracts are highly unusual today, social journalists often contribute for free, which not only means that new media is frequently not reimbursed for its work, but it also means that prize standards for the entire industry are going to be redefined and often to the disadvantage of the traditional journalist/editor.

A realistic option exists, that necessary quality standards in social media reporting might not be maintained. Because social media sites are not reliable news sources, unless they have an official news section, fact checking while blogging and tweeting is crucial. Social media outlets are at risk of distributing false information, which can as a result, skew public opinion. At the same time certain traditional news outlets within the US-American and international media landscape are skewing public opinion deliberately. On the contrary, of course, a wide and strong flow of information can bring forward social movements and as a result democracy.

This summary of notes and research looks at how traditional and social media can produce profound results when in cooperation.

–Lia Petridis Maiello

Illicit Cross Border Flows (especially SALWs) as Threats to International Peace and Security

25 Apr

The Security Council, under the presidency of the United States, held an open debate on “Threats to International Peace and Security” on Wednesday, 25 April. Ambassador Susan Rice of the US provided a concept paper prior to the debate. The focus of discussions was on illicit cross-border movements, including trafficking in persons, drugs, weaponry, technology, and other commodities, that constitute threats to international peace and security. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the debate with a statement reiterating his support for the Council’s attention on this issue noting that member states are obliged under international law to secure their borders as well as build the capacity of states that require assistance to do so. Moreover, the Secretary-General rightly stated that border strengthening cannot be done in isolation, but must be a verifiable part of all national and public institutions that deliver sustained security. In a world of increasing globalization and border porosity, this task becomes ever more critical.

Member states, in cooperation with their regional partners as well as the appropriate elements of the multilateral fora, must develop comprehensive and coordinated responses to the causes and harmful byproducts of illicit flows. Illicit flows can constitute anything from illegal narcotics trafficking, illicit arms transfers, money laundering systems, and nuclear, chemical, radiological, and other deadly substance transfers that are often critical components (and financing mechanisms) of terrorist regimes. Indonesia’s representative underscored the danger of terrorist networks exploiting gaps in border security, while France’s delegation referred to the illicit transfer of weapons of mass destruction technology as a direct threat to peace and security. The Russian delegate expressed concern over the network of Somali pirates that has seized on the lack of border control in the region freely transferring sophisticated weaponry and illegal money. The Secretary-General promised a comprehensive assessment report to be released in 6-months in order to assist member states in their battle against illicit flows. The delegate of the European Union referred to it as a “diagnostic assessment” by the UN secretariat to focus national efforts.

Before discussion on substantive issues of cooperation in securing borders or capacity-building to prevent cross-border terrorist activities, the principle that illicit flows across borders can constitute a threat to international peace and security and, therefore, fall under the mandate of the Security Council, was debated by member states. Guatemala’s delegation noted that not all illicit cross-border activities reach the threshold of “threats to international peace and security,” and, therefore, would not fall under the Security Council’s purview. Likewise, the Pakistani delegation noted that the Council must remain in strict compliance with its mandate and that all illicit activities cannot be lumped into a single category, but rather, be treated under the appropriate treaty obligations and other legal frameworks provided for under various UN organs, agencies, and affiliates, which are not necessarily found in the work of the Security Council. India’s delegation agreed that the Security Council should only intervene when illicit flows clearly demonstrate a threat to international peace and security or imposed sanction regimes. The Cuban delegate stated that discussion of illicit trafficking is not an appropriate action for the Security Council, but rather, falls under the coordinated efforts of the General Assembly, where there is universal participation, and other relevant international treaties. The United Kingdom delegation also warned against restricting the flow of goods so much so that the global economy is not given space to develop. Ambassador Wittig of Germany agreed that interconnectedness should not be seen as a threat.

Who has control over border security and the level at which member states should cooperate were issues in focus during the debate. Delegations such as Pakistan, Colombia, Guatemala, India, Azerbaijan and China made clear that securing borders is a sovereign right of all nations and falls under national authority. The delegations of Morocco, Togo, and Germany emphasized coordinated responses among member states to tackle the complex chain of agencies and responsible entities tasked with securing borders and eradicating illicit and threatening flows.  The Togolese delegate went so far as to state that border zones “go beyond the sovereignty of states.” The Japanese delegation underscored the need for coordination among the many multilateral frameworks available for combating such illicit flows—the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, the 1540 Committee, relevant sanctions committees, Interpol, and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).  On a national level, cooperation is required among the officials of customs, immigration, and law enforcement. The German delegation noted the role of peacekeeping operations and UN police in enhancing capacities against illicit trafficking at early stages of reconstruction.

Outside of the Security Council there are indeed mechanisms for dealing with one of the most pressing issues related to cross-border illegal trafficking: arms (most especially small arms and light weapons [SALWs]. Australia’s delegate referred directly to the role of the Programme of Action on small arms (UNPoA) as well as the forthcoming Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in combating these illegal movements. Australia’s delegation noted that although the UNPoA is a political agreement, it should be utilized as a platform for technical assistance in preventing, combating, and eradicating the illicit trade in SALWs. Likewise, the Australians underscored the critical importance of negotiating a robust ATT that includes SALWs and ammunition in July of this year.

As is oftentimes noted by those advocates pushing for a strong humanitarian instrument in the ATT, there are more controls for regulating the trade in bananas than arms. The proliferation of illicit arms funneled across borders indubitably contributes to instability, violence, and insecurity on a local, regional, and international level. Illicit arms are one of the most pervasive threats to a dependable security sector, and illegally diverted arms from the legal market contribute to vast quantities of violence, lawlessness, and conflict. Smalls arms and illegally diverted arms can pose a major cause of concern for international peace and security and require a multi-faceted, international response through multiple points of entry. As such, we encourage the Security Council, under its mandate to protect international peace and security, as well as the already-existing processes (such as the UNPoA and the forthcoming ATT) to robustly and comprehensively address this blight.

–Katherine Prizeman

UN Disarmament Commission Ends: Another Year Without Consensus

23 Apr

The three-week session of the 2012 Disarmament Commission (UNDC) came to a close on Friday, 20 April marking the 13th straight year without adoption of any consensus recommendations or guidelines and continuing an alarming trend of sub-standard performance in the UN disarmament machinery. The UNDC is continuously hailed as the only deliberative body for disarmament matters as well as one that enjoys universal membership. It is meant to serve as a policy-making body insofar as member states are expected to formulate and present consensus recommendations to negotiating forums (i.e. the Conference on Disarmament) on those consensus items which should then become subject to direct negotiations and, eventually, the drafting of international legal instruments.  The UNDC is a body that is supposed to serve as an essential part of the multilateral disarmament machinery contributing to the overall goal of general and complete disarmament. The UNDC has not, however, served this function in more than a decade. The Chair, Ambassador Enrique Roman-Morey of Peru, noted in his concluding remarks that diplomats will now have to go back to their usual responsibilities with “a sense of having almost accomplished” their duty to formulate consensus recommendations, guidelines, and proposals. It is indeed frustrating and disappointing for all parties, including member states and civil society.

Chairman Ambassador Roman-Morey stated that the UNDC had achieved “the minimum necessary to consider this session of the United Nations Disarmament Commission a relative success.” The question, however, is how another three-week session of deliberations that yielded no concrete results or substantive documents can be counted as a “relative success,” particularly when the same outcome has plagued the UNDC for 13 years. The session this year should be considered a continuation of the status quo, a striking paralysis preventing concrete movement forward in disarmament matters. This paralysis is pervading many parts of the UN disarmament machinery including the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament (CD). The stalemate in the UNDC and the CD clearly demonstrates pervasive inflexibility with the laying down of ‘red lines’ making compromise nearly impossible.

After adoption of three purely procedural reports, the Report of the Disarmament Commission on the whole and the reports of the two Working Groups (nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation [I] and confidence-building measures [CBMs] in the field of conventional weapons [II]), delegations, along with the Chair, expressed varying degrees of frustration and underscored different causes of the continued paralysis. The Chair of Working Group I, the delegate of Saudi Arabia, noted that there was no consensus on any substance or recommendations, which was due not to a lack of effort, but to a lack of time. Likewise, the delegate of Indonesia, when presenting the report from Working Group II, asserted that the lack of consensus on substantive recommendations was a function of complexity rather than energy. Ambassador Roman-Morey referred to a deep sense of mistrust that has kept parties apart and positions divided and also pointed to the “exhausting discussions” on purely procedural matters, such as symbols used for the documents, as sources of provocation that have contributed to the elusiveness consensus. The Swedish and Argentinean delegates underscored that although substantive Chair’s ‘non-papers’ were discussed, they ultimately cannot be referred to without formal adoption and, therefore, their utility is virtually lost without an official record of the discussions (Working Group I’s non-paper outlined guiding principles and recommendations for achieving nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, while Working Group II’s non-paper explored the objective, principles, and practical confidence-building measures in the field of conventional weapons). Two Working Papers on facilitating substantive discussions in the UNDC and recommendations on the function of the UNDC, from Japan and Poland respectively, were also submitted.

The extent to which political will was a source of the UNDC’s failure also came to light in concluding remarks. The Swedish delegation stated that it was not a lack of political will that caused another year without consensus. Contrastingly, Ambassador Roman-Morey had the opposite view: there is definitive political will not to pursue themes of universal disarmament. The Cuban delegation agreed that the failure was indeed a function of the lack of constructive political will that was manifest in the unwillingness of some states to disarm and renounce their nuclear weapons. More positive analysis of this year’s session came from the Japanese delegation that asserted that the DC had “laid solid groundwork.” Similarly, the Indonesian delegation, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), reaffirmed the role of the UNDC. The Mexican delegation also sounded hopeful in stating that although the results did not meet expectations, there were enriching discussions held. The Russian Federation also agreed that there were many candid discussions illustrating that all member states are ultimately in favor of nuclear disarmament.

Ambassador Roman-Morey stated that in “matters of disarmament one must be realistic while remaining positive.” How can those that work on the UNDC remain positive and realistic after such a prolonged stalemate? It is time to make serious commitments to break the status quo, formulate alternative and realistic pathways to consensus, and implement them as quickly as possible. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane called on the member states to “adjust their sails” as the best course for meeting new challenges. To further this, the Chair suggested reformation of the procedural arrangements of the UNDC. Three continuous weeks of meetings have not helped achieve positive results in 13 years. Thus, Ambassador Roman-Morey suggested dividing the UNDC into two parts—two weeks in the spring, and one week in the fall when the First Committee begins its work. A suggestion offered in the past has also been opening all deliberations to civil society and academic experts to further enrich debate over recommendations.

Ultimately, employing the same methods and the same attitudes towards compromise will not suffice. The UN disarmament machinery is seriously faltering in its responsibilities and needs to explore new pathways for deliberation and trust.  As noted by the Austrian delegate, the General Assembly should take more leadership for exploring options for facilitating deliberations that seek to revitalize how the UNDC does its work. Member states must also explore new avenues of engagement and trust building so that successful disarmament outcomes become the norm rather than rare breakthroughs amidst many disappointments.


–Katherine Prizeman

Looking Forward to the 1st NPT Prep Com and Back on the 2010 Outcome Document

12 Apr

For two weeks this May, states parties of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) will gather to begin the next review cycle as the first Preparatory Committee (Prep Com) is to be held in Vienna.  This Prep Com comes just two years after the conclusion of the 2010 Review Conference when states adopted a 64-point Action Plan as part of the outcome document of the conference. The two additional elements of the outcome dealt with the 1995 resolution on a weapons of mass destruction-free zone (WMDFZ) in the Middle East and a call for the complete and full abandonment of all nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons programmes by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). One of the most practical successes of the document was the call for a 2012 conference on the establishment of a WMDFZ in the Middle East, which is scheduled to be held in Helsinki in December. The Secretary-General has appointed a facilitator of this process, as called for in the 2010 document. Under-Secretary of State for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jaakko Laajava, will serve in this capacity and has already begun rounds of consultations in the region (most recently with Foreign Ministry officials in Israel). Any zone in the Middle East will be sustainable only when all participating states have complementary roles and responsibilities that contribute to a more secure region that will render weapons of mass destruction ultimately irrelevant. (See previous post on “Following through on Middle East WMD-Free Zone” from 18 January).

Much of the forthcoming NPT Prep Com in Vienna will be focused on organizational work– election of officers, dates and venues for further sessions, methods of work, etc– but there will inevitably be substantive discussions on consideration of principles, objectives and ways to promote the full implementation of the Treaty, including specific matters of substance also related to the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East and the 2010 Final Document, including the recommendations for follow-on actions adopted at the Review Conference (64-point Action Plan). These discussions will culminate (hopefully) in the adoption of a final report and recommendations to the 2015 Review Conference. Working papers (although non-binding) are also expected on varying topics related to the Treaty’s implementation. The Prep Com will be chaired by Ambassador Peter Woolcott of Australia.

States parties will inevitably focus on certain aspects of the 2010 outcome document, in particular certain action points that have explicitly called for further efforts on nuclear disarmament and related mechanisms and reporting tools. In general, the outcome document was hailed as a great success by many governments and media outlets insofar as states parties were able to adopt, without calls for amendments, a forward-looking action plan that addresses nuclear disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation, and nuclear energy, as well as the 1995 resolution on the Middle East. This outcome represented a stark contrast the 2005 Review Conference that ended without a consensus document and largely labeled a failure. As noted by many disarmament advocates, the 2010 document does not provide concrete, meaningful commitments on the parts of the nuclear weapons states (NWS) to disarm nor does it necessarily assign substantial measures to deal with non-proliferation challenges. Many disarmament and non-proliferation advocates have stated that the document very much maintains the status quo, while encouraging the spread of nuclear energy and extolling its “virtues.” (See Reaching Critical Will’s NPT News in Review from 2010).

  • Garnering much attention is Action 5, which commit the NWS to “accelerate concrete progress on the steps leading to nuclear disarmament, contained in the Final Document of the 2000 Review Conference…”  Furthermore, Action 3 resolves the NWS to implement the “unequivocal undertaking…to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals…” Perhaps most importantly, the NWS are called upon to report to the 2014 Prep Com and the 2015 Review Conference on their undertakings related to Action 5, thereby placing a timeline (however weak) on progress towards nuclear disarmament. Action 5 also promises that the 2015 Review Conference will “take stock and consider the next steps for the full implementation of Action VI.” Action VI states that each party to the NPT is obliged to pursue negotiations on measures for the cessation of the nuclear arms race and to pursue a treaty on general and complete disarmament under effective international control. This provision gives hope to the 2015 Review Conference insofar as the groundwork will perhaps be laid for development of a road map towards full nuclear disarmament.
  • Action 20 calls upon all states parties to submit regular reports on implementation of the Action Plan as well as Article VI and the 13 Practical Steps agreed to in the 2010 Final Document. Action 21 calls upon the NWS, in particular and as a confidence-building measure, to agree to a standard reporting form and regular reporting intervals for providing “voluntary” information on implementation and also invites the Secretary-General to establish a public repository of this information. Such calls for regular reporting is indicative of the growing interest by many states, in particular, of course, from the non-nuclear weapon states, to create concrete benchmarks to evaluate implementation of the Action Plan. Nonetheless, the provision of “voluntary” inevitably weakens hopes for regularity and uniformity in reporting.

The road ahead for the NPT is a tough one– member states must now move from celebration of the 2010 outcome to the difficulties of implementing it in the 2015 review cycle. There remains widespread discontent over the disconnect between nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament with  many states concerned that there is still great focus on the former and not enough on the latter. The Action Plan does indeed call on the Conference on Disarmament to establish a subsidiary group to negotiate this topic (Action 6), although with the caveat that it must be done in the “context of an agreed, comprehensive and balanced programme of work.” Such a programme of work remains elusive and, thus, so does nuclear disarmament. 

The Action Plan can function as a yardstick against which to measure the three pillars of the NPT– nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear disarmament, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. This next review cycle will undoubtedly be characterizes by discussion over a focused framework of evaluation of this Action Plan and, ultimately, the full implementation of the NPT’s articles. It cannot be ignored that the NPT represents the only binding commitment to nuclear disarmament in a multilateral treaty and, with its indefinite extension, remains the cornerstone of work towards a world without nuclear weapons. Therefore, the next review cycle represents another step on the ladder towards this goal and must not be wasted.

–Katherine Prizeman

Debating Political Will and Working Methods in the Disarmament Commission

5 Apr

The General Debate in the 2012 session of the Disarmament Commission has been quite scattered as some delegations have used the plenary to lay out detailed positions on all issues related to disarmament and non-proliferation, some to lament the widespread stalemate across the multilateral disarmament fora, and others to propose recommendations for improving the functioning of the Disarmament Commission (UNDC) itself. While there can be some merit to discussing national positions on disarmament-related issues in a broad context such that national priorities can be understood as part of a conglomerate of concerns, there is little value added in reiterating general support for existing treaties, frameworks, and broad principles of disarmament and non-proliferation. This is most especially true in a forum, the UNDC, which is mandated to deliberate on particular issues, formulate recommendations, and submit them to the General Assembly for further action. A reiteration of existing national positions does little to advance this agenda and while the problem of paralysis is not exclusive to the UNDC, but rather characterizes the Conference on Disarmament (CD) as well, member states must use the next three weeks of substantive discussion to address the issue at hand—the UNDC’s failure to deliver recommendations for the last twelve years. The UNDC must take seriously its mandate to deliberate on specific agenda items to formulate recommendations to be submitted to the GA and, indirectly, to the CD for the purposes of negotiation. In order to do so, all obstacles to achieving consensus must be honestly reviewed.

Delegations have been split over the nature of these obstacles, ultimately whether they are of a political or institutional nature. The Swedish delegation reiterated support for time dedicated to a discussion on how the UNDC goes about its work as well as how its work relates to the role envisaged for the UNDC within the multilateral disarmament machinery. The Kazakh delegation suggested the Chair prepare a short note outlining the previous resolutions from the GA and other fora that “spell out how the working methods of the UNDC can be strengthened” identifying recommendations that have been previously set forth on this topic. Other delegations have disagreed with the assertion that working methods have been the cause of the UNDC’s failure. The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) has made clear on many occasions that the stalemate is due to the lack of political will. The NAM states have called for the work of the UNDC to “be intensified through reinvigorated political will.” The Egyptian delegation stated categorically that the problems of the UNDC are not related to its working methods. Similarly, the Pakistani delegation has stated that the lack of progress is rooted in the lack of political will and “double standards.” Even the Chair has weighed in on this argument in his letter to delegations prior to the start of the session stating that the ‘lack of political will’ case is not valid in a deliberative body.

The issues contributing to the UNDC paralysis are not so simple as to categorically blame either political will or working methods exclusively. As the Norwegian delegate stated during the open debate, perhaps the deadlock is due in part to political will, but delegations must make more imperative use of the UNDC to identify ways to overcome the stalemate in any case. Likewise, the Swiss delegate noted that there are several issues that have contributed to the deadlock. Mr. Bavaud stated, while political will has been significantly lacking and in places where it has existed has not been acted upon, much of the lack of progress has been of an institutional nature. Moreover, the Swiss delegation rightly noted that restrictive approaches to working methods, such as not allowing the input of outside experts into the Commission, are no longer acceptable when national security concerns cannot be delinked from global peace and security challenges.

Member states have put forth specific recommendations for improving the functioning of the UNDC. Poland’s delegation has issued a working paper on the topic calling for a Chairman’s summary or joint statement to be issued on all agenda items on which member states cannot reach consensus, and no recommendation can be formulated, as to reflect the views and positions of delegations and to prevent the loss of exchange of views altogether. The stalemate of recent years has prevented the transmission of information to the General Assembly rendering the UNDC’s work utterly useless. Furthermore, the delegations of Poland, Japan, and Switzerland have also suggested opening up UNDC proceedings to exchanges with representatives from academia and civil society.  Poland, in its working paper, also noted the issue of organizational matters encouraging the early election of not only the Chairperson, but also the Chairpersons of the subsidiary working groups and Vice-Chairpersons.

As noted by a handful of delegations, it would be wise to also examine the formulation of agenda items. Inclusion of broad, generic items related to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation has not proven effective.  The Brazilian delegation called the debate during the last cycle of the UNDC “excessively general and ambitious, making it more difficult to have concrete results.” The Swiss delegation agreed that it would be helpful to focus on more specific, circumscribed items, such as negative security assurances, nuclear weapon free zones, or verification mechanisms for conventional arms.

The international community has a joint responsibility to find more constructive ways to work and to explore all the possible impediments to success. The argument over the two obstacles to the UNDC’s success is not an either/or debate. Movement forward in the UNDC will require both the political will necessary to accept compromise for the sake of multilateral agreement and a re-examination of working methods that have not yielded concrete results in more than ten years.


–Katherine Prizeman

2012 Disarmament Commission Opens as Deliberations on the Agenda Continue

3 Apr

The President of the General Assembly, the Secretary-General, and the new High Representative for Disarmament Affairs addressed the opening of the 2012 substantive session of the Disarmament Commission (DC), all of whom expressed concerns over the lack of progress made in formulating and adopting consensus recommendations, guidelines, and proposals in the DC over the past twelve years. While there was affirmation that the DC plays an important role in the overall UN disarmament machinery as it provides a forum for deliberating on specific disarmament-related agenda items, the current impasse has contributed to growing frustrations related to a lack of political will, inadequate working methods, and a general and growing resistance to compromise. With each year that concludes without any consensus recommendations, progress will become more challenging and delegations will become even less engaged as frustration will grow over the lack of concrete results.

High Representative Angela Kane noted in her opening remarks that “fresh thinking and new ideas are needed.” She referred specifically to the Chairman’s proposal from the 2008 session on procedural and organizational changes, such as the possible participation of experts in the work of the DC. The Chairman of this year’s session, Ambassador Enrique Roman-Morey of Peru, has agreed to submit a Chairman’s summary documenting the exchange of views from the general debate, including discussion related to working methods. He has made clear that he does not intend to include working methods as a stand-alone agenda item. In whichever form, such discussions on working methods must be taken seriously as the workings of the DC over the last decade have been at best lackluster and at worse irrelevant.

The Chair has made clear in various forums that “business as usual” will not suffice. Inclusion of expert panels would surely contribute to more robust discussions on the substantive agenda items. Additional technical and conceptual expertise could buttress the formulation of recommendations for adoption by consensus. Injection of new perspectives and information by experts would be a welcome addition to the often generic statements delivered by delegations on the same agenda items carried over from year to year. For example, there is little argument among member states that nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation is an international security priority. As recommendations for achieving this goal do not enjoy the same consensus, the DC should be used as a forum for deliberating on (not negotiating) specific proposals and recommendations for consideration by the General Assembly on precisely this issue. The DC should not serve as just another forum for reaffirming general support for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

Ambassador Roman-Morey has argued that the argument of “lack of political will” is not valid for the DC given its deliberative nature, as opposed to the Conference on Disarmament (CD) that functions as the negotiating body for disarmament matters. Ambassador Roman-Morey has concluded that the role of this DC is in part to break the current deadlock by identifying recommendations that may contribute to solving the CD stalemate. It would be wise to use the DC as a means forward in helping to lay the conceptual groundwork for future multilateral agreements to be considered in the CD and related fora. Nonetheless, if the obstacle to progress in the DC is not, in fact, the lack of political will as expressed by the Chair, it would follow then that flaws in working methods of the DC must be responsible, to some degree, for its lack of consensus outcomes and be one of the primary factors contributing to its failures over the last twelve years. If this argument is correct, and the problem is primarily structural rather than political, then clearly the operative methods of deliberating in the DC are not lending themselves to adequate consensus building and, therefore, must be altered, reinvigorated, or otherwise addressed.

In moving towards an adopted Programme of Work, the Chairman has offered his suggestions for two substantive agenda items. He has recommended, in addition to the item on nuclear disarmament that is required, to include one on conventional weapons rather than on the disarmament decade or a fourth Special Session on Disarmament (SSOD IV). Ambassador Roman-Morey has indicated that the decade and SSOD IV are not likely to garner the same consensus as nuclear or conventional weapons and, for the sake of much needed progress in the DC this year, delegations should adopt items that are more likely to find consensus. The Chair’s intention is to create two working groups focused on the two primary agenda items with a third open-ended group to discuss agenda items for the next cycle.

Chair’s recommendations:

1)     Nuclear disarmament

  1. Recommendations for establishing the necessary framework to achieve a world without nuclear weapons
  2. Recommendations on lessons learned and the legacy of Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
  3. Recommendations on the role of the DC in addressing security challenges of the 21st century and reducing nuclear risks

2)     Conventional weapons

  1. Recommendations on strengthening and improving the effectiveness of the UN regional disarmament centers
  2. Recommendations on effective confidence-building measures in the field of conventional weapons

Arguably even more important than the individual agenda items, the DC must find a way to achieve consensus on recommendations this year as it begins a new cycle of work and also celebrates its 60th anniversary. In the absence of clear recommendations, the DC’s path towards irrelevance will become harder and harder to divert.  And while the DC’s role has been obscured by years of inaction, diplomats still understand the value added of the DC is its ability to put forth general guidelines and recommendations on points of agreement among member states that can lay the groundwork for fruitful resolutions in the General Assembly and even negotiations in the CD.  In order for progress to ensue, it is essential to maintain a clear perspective on the function of the DC.  It is intended as a forum for introducing new proposals and suggested pathways forward, not a formal negotiating body – a flexible mandate that makes it possible for the DC to exceed expectations, not only disappoint them.


–Katherine Prizeman

Gender Issues in the Human Rights Committee– From Guatemala to Yemen

3 Apr

Joining the Arms Trade Treaty Preparatory Committee, the annual meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women and the Programme of Action on Small Arms Preparatory Committee as major, recent UN activities with direct implications for GAPW’s mandate, the Human Rights Committee (HRC) also convened to review select state performance in the human rights area. As it has done in the past, GAPW monitored the HRC as it posed often difficult questions to high level representatives of states parties regarding the fulfillment of their commitments under the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The HRC is a treaty body consisting of eighteen non-government experts and is designed to assess gaps and inconsistencies in states reports submitted as part of treaty obligations. The impact of HRC’s recommendations on the states under review has been a subject of debate. What is not debated is the commitment and skill of committee members as they interrogate official interpretations of performance – in this cycle of the Dominican Republic, Yemen, Guatemala, Turkmenistan and Cape Verde – while supporting states that agree to come to New York (or Geneva) and submit themselves to this type of review.

Particularly alarming aspects of the HRC’s discussions with these states – especially in the case of Yemen and Guatemala – were related to both violence against women and discrimination that impedes women’s participation in social and political life. Given Guatemala’s current membership in the Security Council as well as the heightened attention to women’s contributions to the so-called Arab Spring, the HRC’s dialogues with these countries were particularly relevant reflections of some of the core issues under discussion within the UN on how to hold governments accountable to their obligations to promote participation of women and end impunity for violence.

Cultural diversity, protecting legal pluralism and assurances of greater accessibility were some of the key issues for Guatemala. Similarly, violence against women was also addressed, in particular the ‘femicide law’ and the specialized courts that were established to enforce the provisions of the law. Guatemala was specifically asked for details on how cases of violence against women are prosecuted, as well as how police and prosecutors are trained on these issues to ensure that formal charges are filed and pursued for all crimes related to femicide. In this context, violations of the rights of the indigenous women were also emphasized. Guatemalan officials gave details about the national legal framework that has been enacted to ensure equality, end discrimination against women, improve accessibility to justice, and increase response to the particular needs of indigenous women. To what extent any of these law and provisions have positive outcomes for ending violence and promoting participation was an open question.

Violence and discrimination against women are critical human rights issues for Yemen as well. The responses by government officials to committee questions highlighted government efforts to promote women’s rights in the constitution and increase the representation of women in politics and the judiciary. Enacting a quota system to increase women’s participation in political affairs was specifically mentioned. Yemen also responded to questions about women’s limited access to education and the high illiteracy rate by noting that young girls are transitioned from school into marriages at a young age. While secondary education of young girls is encouraged, there is limited opportunity in Yemen’s many rural communities. On some of the Sharia-governed practices, such as polygamy or early marriages, Sharia requires equal treatment for women so women must be consulted before marriage and have grounds for divorce if they are treated unfairly. Yemen also highlighted proposed legislation to withdraw weapons from armed groups as well as efforts to control the flow of weapons into the hands of non-state actors, situations which pose unique risks for violence against women.

Overall, it was helpful for committee members to keep their focus on women’s participation and the state’s accountability regarding violence against women. It will be important to follow how these issues will be developed and, in particular, to what extent the recommendations of the HRC will be implemented. Clearly, there was some skepticism on the part of Committee members that concerns they raised in response to national reports from these and the other countries on this docket (including Turkmenistan and Dominican Republic) would lead to significant and lasting changes. Especially the case of Yemen, women’s issues seem to be adjudicated on the basis of three distinct and at times contradictory principles – the ICCPR, the national constitution and Sharia law, the latter of which still permits stoning and amputation as suitable punishments for transgressions including adultery. Only women are eligible for stoning. 

There is a tendency in these meetings for governments to respond to allegations of neglect or abuse with affirmations that appropriate constitutional provisions are in place, the assumption being that if the right laws exist, the right behavior ensues. Clearly this not always the case, and committee members are wise to insist, as best they can, on practical policy responses to their practical human rights concerns. Moreover, despite their heavy case load and report backlogs, members are wise to insist on diretrct engagement by relevant UN agencies within the countries under consideration. It is important that states respond to evidence-based concerns with evidence of their own, rather than recourse to constitutional or other texts.

– Dr. Robert Zuber and Melina Lito