Archive | October, 2012

Security Council Holds Open Debate on International Criminal Court

25 Oct

On 17 October the UN Security Council (SC) held an open debate on the subject “Peace and justice, with a special focus on the role of the International Criminal Court”. In addition to the five permanent members of the SC – China, France, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States – as well as the ten non-permanent members – Azerbaijan, Colombia, Germany Guatemala, India, Morocco, Pakistan, Portugal, South Africa and Togo -, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Judge and President of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Song Sang-Hyun, and a representative of the Office of the Prosecutor of the Court, Phakiso Mochochoko, also made statements at the debate. Many other non-members of the SC offered statements as well.

The majority of the speakers praised the good timing of the debate, as this year the Rome Statute, which established the ICC, celebrates its tenth anniversary. Furthermore, perhaps even more symbolic, Guatemala, which is presiding at the SC this month as president, is the latest state that has ratified the Statute. Therefore, at the initiative of Guatemala, this debate on peace and justice and the ICC was held this month. Many states, realizing the vitality and the sensitivity of the issue, expressed their wish to hear from the ICC at the SC on a more regular basis.

As Mr. Sang-Hyun and Mr. Mochochoko argued in their statements, and what was later on repeated by the vast majority of speakers at the debate, there cannot be peace without justice and there cannot be justice without peace. If the international community is aiming for sustainable peace, justice cannot be overshadowed and be seen as a secondary matter in any conflict resolution. As oftentimes justice has been sacrificed in order to reach peace, there is a prevailing “culture of impunity”  in many conflict-torn countries across the world. As General-Secretary Ki-moon noted, this is a new age of accountability and “the perpetrators can no longer be confident that their crimes will be unpunished”.

Another issue that was widely discussed among the speakers was the relationship between the SC and the ICC as well as their distinct mandates. While the UN SC is essentially a political body, which makes its decisions based often subjected to political aspirations and biases,, the ICC represents an international criminal law enforcement tool, which was set up to function completely independent and uninfluenced by the political currents often endemic in the SC. The separation of distinctive mandates is essential when speaking of referrals. When a state is not a party to the ICC, the SC, seeing that grave crimes have been committed and thus  a potential threat to an international peace and security has been identified, can refer the case to the ICC. The referral to the ICC should be impartial, therefore, as Pakistan pointed out, prepared with diligent scrutiny and never be a default process when an injustice occurs. On the other hand, the final decision would be made by the ICC whether to initiate an investigation or not.

Another issue widely addressed at the debate was the cooperation between the two institutions and how it should and could be improved. As non-SC members, such as New Zealand, Australia, Bangladesh and Lithuania pointed out, when the referral has been made, the SC has to act with the utmost commitment and support in order to make sure that the referral will be followed through upon. Failure in an execution of arrest warrants is a great example where there has been a lack of commitment.

Another important issue brought up during the debate was the Syrian case. Such states as Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia and Slovenia mentioned that mass breaches of human rights and grave atrocities against the Syrian population should be to the ICC. Keeping in mind how impotent the SC has been in acting on the Syrian case due seemingly intractable country positions, it would be unlikely to expect that this time things will go differently. Uruguay, on the other hand, brought up an important point – it raised a question, whether or not it would be fair and right if the permanent SC members would restrain from their veto power when dealing with such issues as crimes against humanity..

As international humanitarian law continues to gain more attention and legitimacy worldwide, the debate at the UN SC was timely and necessary. Many important issues have been addressed and the support that states declared for the ICC is encouraging and promising. A lot is still left to do to ensure global peace and justice, but fighting the “culture of impunity” and preventing future human rights violations through collaboration between the UN SC and the ICC is one of the ways to do it.


—Donata Saulyte

The Arms Trade Treaty at the First Committee General Debate: Views on Where to Go Next

16 Oct

One of the most anticipated items on the First Committee agenda this session is the future of the arms trade treaty (ATT) negotiations. As the July 2012 Diplomatic Conference ended without adoption of a consensus treaty, many delegations have come to this session of the First Committee hoping for a mandate to continue negotiations in 2013. 62 delegations, nearly every delegation that took the floor, referenced the ATT during this week’s general debate either expressing support for an additional Diplomatic Conference, underscoring the importance of adopting universal conventional arms trade regulations and lamenting the inconclusiveness of the July Conference, or reiterating the necessity of transparency and non-discrimination in the negotiation of the future ATT. Despite the varying views on how to move the process forward, the process must indeed move forward by capitalizing on the momentum of the summer’s negotiations. Nevertheless, building on the progress made requires improvement and strengthening of the draft treaty text and not merely maintenance of the status quo or, worse, a weakening of the text. As Ambassador Higgie of New Zealand noted, robust support for continuing the ATT process is crucial to the human and humanitarian dimensions of security and, as noted by the delegate of the Republic of Korea, states must engage in “effective deliberation in the First Committee for constructive alternatives.”

The general debate underscored the nuances in state positions regarding how the July negotiations were viewed as well as specific text suggestions that delegations seek to address in future deliberations. Furthermore, the interventions also highlighted states’ positions on how and under what circumstances negotiations should move forward.

Interventions by delegations this week illustrated how states viewed the July Conference and, ultimately, how such views will affect decisions on moving forward. Some delegations noted July as a “failure,” including the Chairman of the Committee, Ambassador Percaya of Indonesia, who called the “recent failure” of the ATT disappointing and the representative of Cameroon who noted that “the failure of the ATT makes things harder” in the context of international security concerns. The Ambassador of Costa Rica called the lack of consensus “a blow to peace and human rights.” Other delegations chose to focus more explicitly on the progress made in July and appealed to delegations to “continue to push ahead,” as suggested by the representative of Malaysia. Ambassador Adamson of the UK asserted, “I want to make absolutely clear that the Conference did not end in failure. To say it did ignores the huge progress that has been made towards our ultimate aim…” The general and widespread consensus, nonetheless, was a sense of deep disappointment over the inability to reach consensus over the summer, although somewhat tempered by hope for future negotiations.

Despite varying views on whether or not July was ultimately a “failure,” the vast majority of states expressed support for continuing the process through continued deliberations to adopt a treaty in “the near future.” Some chose to underscore specific items that remain contentious, including issues of scope, criteria and parameters, as well as inclusion of specific principles. For example, the representatives of CARICOM, Colombia, and Peru all called for inclusion of munitions in the scope of a future treaty. The representative of Colombia also appealed to states for a comprehensive list of activities to be covered, including brokering, financing, export, and import. The representative of South Africa warned against becoming “side-tracked” by extraneous issues such as production and possession. Discussion also arose related to the principles and criteria to be included in the ATT. The representatives of the Africa Group and the Non-Aligned Movement underscored that there must be “no undue restriction in the way of the sovereign right of states for self-defence,” while the ASEAN states highlighted that any ATT must ensure the rights of self-defense and territorial integrity. The Arab Group representative laid forth specific guidelines related to parameters of a future ATT noting, “Any criteria developed by the treaty to regulate arms exports must also be based on clear legal instruments…” Therefore, it is clear that such reiteration of state positions illustrates that many issues remained unresolved from July and will require further debate before adoption of a treaty.

In terms of the pathway forward, such a decision is expected to be taken in the coming weeks. The “co-authors” group of the original 2007 General Assembly Resolution on the ATT, composed of Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Kenya, Japan, and the UK, announced their intention to submit a resolution at this session of the First Committee seeking a mandate for an additional Negotiating Conference in early 2013. Ambassador Adamson noted that the Resolution sets the timing for “a short, final, consensus-based conference to finalize the work of the treaty” stating that as some states asked for “more time” to consider the President’s draft text, that time should be given. The EU, France, Guatemala, Switzerland, Spain, Turkey, Portugal, and the US all supported a final conference in 2013 with negotiations based on the President’s draft text. However, other delegations chose to refer more loosely to the future ATT process. The representative of India said no treaty “should be rushed through” by an imposed timeline and the representative of Cuba noted that his delegations would “pursue discussions” on the ATT in a transparent manner.

While the issue of continuing discussion of the ATT was generally uncontested, the rules of procedure remain debatable. The representatives of Mexico and Norway rightly underscored the deadlock caused by the consensus rule in July. As the Ambassador of Norway noted, “We have seen the consensus format watering down or paralyzing important disarmament processes time and again.” Likewise, the Mexican delegation urged that delegations do not allow a small number of states to impede the entire process because of their own “political or economic considerations.” Holding hostage an entire process due to the demands of a few states is simply unacceptable and interpreting consensus as de facto veto power will seriously undermine, if not prevent, adoption of a robust ATT that seeks to have a concrete humanitarian impact. As the First Committee continues to debate the future of the ATT process, the requirement of consensus must continue to be debated such that a new conference does not yield the same unsatisfying and disappointing result that came in July.

For more information on the First Committee, see Reaching Critical Will.

–Katherine Prizeman

The Chemical Weapons Convention: Setting a High Multilateral Disarmament Standard

2 Oct

On Monday 1 October, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) celebrated fifteen years of serving as the custodian of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction (CWC). The Ministerial Meeting was held on the final day of the UN General Assembly’s high-level segment and featured a slew of statements from member states as well as the Secretary-General and the Director-General of the OPCW Technical Secretariat that resides in The Hague, Netherlands. The CWC, as noted by several delegations on Monday afternoon, is an example of the success that can be achieved in the field of multilateral disarmament. The purpose of this meeting was to both generate support for the long-term objectives of the Convention and also to provide impetus to the Third Special Session of the Conference of the States Parties to Review the Operation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, scheduled to be convened in April 2013.

With 188 states parties, the CWC confirms that it is, indeed, possible to eliminate an entire category of a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) through nearly universal adoption of a legally-binding convention. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the eight member states that remain outside of the CWC, namely those that are non-states parties including Angola, Egypt, the DPRK, Somalia, South Sudan, and Syria, as well as Israel and Myanmar that have signed the CWC but not yet ratified it, to accede to the Treaty and join the international community’s commitment to destroy all existing chemical weapons stockpiles. In addition to its near universal participation, the CW’s twin pillars of eliminating existing stockpiles and preventing the emergence of new types of chemical weapons are significant commitments to WMD non-proliferation and disarmament.  As the UK Ambassador reminded the attendees, as of August 2012, 75 percent of all declared chemical weapons stockpiles have been verifiably destroyed.

Among the issues highlighted, several member states underscored the importance of the peaceful uses of chemistry including the delegate of Iran, the newly appointed Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), who noted the importance of chemistry to overall economic development. Cooperation with the chemical industry was a topic also of interest to states parties; in particular the delegate of Japan called for closer cooperation between the OPCW and relevant industry stakeholders. Also encouraged was victims’ assistance. The Iranian delegate, on behalf of NAM, called for an international support network and a voluntary trust fund.

Moreover, the robust verification regime of the CWC was highlighted as an important and unique contribution to multilateral disarmament. The Cuban delegate rightly stated that the total, verifiable elimination of weapons within a specified time frame is a fundamental pillar of disarmament. The Mexican delegate also noted that the exemplary verification regime of the CWC sets a high standard for multilateral disarmament writ large. The specifics of the CWC example illustrate how robust verification is imperative to comprehensive and universal disarmament measures. The CWC Verification Regime is split into two operational units of the Technical Secretariat—the Verification Division and the Inspectorate Division. The Verification Annex to the Convention provides a comprehensive regime for verifying all chemical weapons-related activities, as well as routine monitoring of the chemical industry through on-site inspections. The Verification Annex is by far the most extensive portion of the CWC. (More detailed information on the OPCW’s verification activities can be found here.)

Some delegations also made pointed comments on the recent statements by Syrian officials regarding the government’s possession of chemical weapons. The delegations of the EU, Norway, France, and the Secretary-General all expressed concern over the admission of Syrian officials of the government’s possession and possible use of chemical weapons. The Director-General of the OPCW has echoed the Secretary-General’s concerns and has stated that the OPCW continues to “monitor developments there closely.” The widespread outrage over such claims that the Syrian government possesses and, even more, would contemplate use of such weapons is indicative of the well-established and common international norm that use of chemical weapons is entirely unacceptable.

The success of the chemical weapons regime is encouraging in a field that often struggles with a lack of consensus and a deficit of political will necessary to eliminate such egregious weapons. As noted by the Turkish delegate, attention must also be paid to nuclear and biological weapons, in particular nuclear disarmament through a regional approach in light of the forthcoming Conference on a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East. Elimination of an entire category of WMD is possible through universal participation and robust verification—such an important goal must be vigorously pursued in other disarmament contexts.



—Katherine Prizeman