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International Media and the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms

10 Sep

“Sparse” would describe the level of attention international media has been paying to the Review Conference for the UN Programme of Action on small arms and lights weapons (UNPoA). The reasons are manifold and can obviously not be reduced to a general rule of thumb. The personal dedication of the individual journalist willing to push a story or topic that might not be as newsworthy as others in the eyes of the editor or outlet would be one reason. Needless to say, every media representative today, in particular those who are publishing with corporate media outlets, has to deal with an entirely new framework of restrictions and guidelines.

Newsworthiness has been redefined, often but not always to the detriment of quality of information. On the other hand, tangible results are still more likely to make it into the paper than theoretical discourses, which often exclude the every-day-reader. The counterargument for that statement would be the journalist’s ability to break down, analyze and communicate complex, specialized contexts. Not all journalists can, not all of them want to, not all of them have the time to, and not every outlet is suitable for such analyses.

These various arguments can be directly applied to the UNPoA Review Conference.

For many, the failure of the arms trade treaty (ATT) negotiations in July, although different in nature and objectives, has been paralyzing whereby UN stereotypes surrounding effectiveness and pace of implementation have certainly resurfaced. Additionally, discussions on language or meeting details, as has been the case for some of the first week of the Review Conference, are simply of no interest to the every-day-reader, while they are very important in a UN context when multiple cultures with particular political boundaries are trying to come to an agreement on complex political matters, such as national military build-up or the eradication of the illicit arms trade.

Nevertheless, as in most situations in life, there is a way to cover solid middle ground. Numerous side events at the UNPoA Conference have offered a high level of practicality and result-driven implementation that is well -worth communicating to the outside world of political ordinaries. For example, the launch of the publication A decade of Implementing the UNPoA on SALW: Analysis of National Reports by Sarah Parker and Katherine Green from the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) provided a summary of the degree of national implementation of the UNPoA, and although the provision of national reports is voluntary and therefor incomplete, the study could be a basis from which effectiveness or ineffectiveness could be much better quantified.

Another event worth covering was hosted by the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS), which focused on physical security and stockpile management and demonstrated a very tangible and reportable result of UNPoA implementation by coordinating UN actors for emergency response as well as creating national focal points in areas of crisis for humanitarian organizations. As Global Action’s Katherine Prizeman writes, “To date, UNMAS has destroyed over 180,000 landmines and unexploded ordnances (UXO) in Libya through 23 deployed clearance teams.”

What creates international headlines a day after the UNPoA had started is the fact that “The legal international trade in small arms, light weapons, their parts and ammunition is worth at least $8.5 billion annually”— more than double the previous estimate in 2006, according to a survey by independent researchers released at UN headquarters last week. The Small Arms Survey 2012 said the increase from the last estimate of $4 billion is due to several factors — large-scale government spending especially during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, increased purchases of small arms and ammunition from foreign countries by American civilians, and better information and improved methods of calculating the value of transfers”, as UN-Correspondent Edith Lederer writes in Bloomberg’s Businessweek.

What will it take to make peace that profitable and hence newsworthy? According to the Small Arms Survey, there are an estimated 875 million small arms in circulation worldwide, produced by more than 1,000 companies from nearly 100 countries. A concerning situation this PoA conference is dedicated to and would indeed deserve extensive, global media attention.

–Lia Petridis Maiello

UNPoA on Small Arms Review Conference Ends with Consensus Document

10 Sep

After the President of the 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. This document is composed of a Declaration, two implementation plans for the Programme of Action (UNPoA) and International Tracing Instrument (ITI), respectively, and a follow-up mechanism detailing a future schedule of meetings to guide the 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. As the representative of Algeria noted, this RevCon “achieved success where the ATT [arms trade treaty] couldn’t.” Likewise, the fact that member states were able to constructively engage 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 (SALWs). Undoubtedly, the UNPoA remains the only global framework of practical measures for combating illicit trade in SALWs and its dire humanitarian consequences.

Many delegations took the opportunity to praise the work of the Conference on Friday afternoon, including the representative of Mexico who noted how this success represented a significant step forward since the first RevCon in 2006, and the German delegate who welcomed this “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 6-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 alarming, however, will be the ongoing debate and inability 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.  If left unresolved, it is expected that this division 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.

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 SALWs.


–Katherine Prizeman