Archive | November, 2012

Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons Sessions at UN Geneva

19 Nov

In Geneva this past week, High Contracting Parties (HCPs) are meeting to discuss the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects (CCW) and some of its individual Protocols. HCPs to the CCW must sign at least two of the Convention’s Protocols, but are not required to sign all of them.

The CCW, negotiated by 51 states in 1980, seeks to address the use and effects of so-called inhumane weaponry. To achieve these aims, the CCW itself contains only general rules and was designed to be expanded and updated to encompass new technological and methodological developments in warfare through the adoption of individual protocols. The Convention is considered a “living instrument” seeking to address new security challenges as they emerge in modern practice. As noted by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in remarks to the opening of the Conference on Protocol V on Monday morning, the CCW has been judged by its ability to catalyze action for states to prevent and remedy human suffering. This is a critical point in the context of the CCW framework as it seeks greater relevance to international peace and security. Nevertheless, the assertion that a proper balance between “military requirements and humanitarian concerns” must be struck continues to be made, particularly by delegations such as China and Pakistan. This is an ongoing and even at times unsettling debate in light of international humanitarian law (IHL) implications of the CCW.

Protocols to the CCW include (I) Non-detectable fragments; (Amended Protocol II) Landmines, Booby-traps, and other Devices; (III) Incendiary Weapons; (IV) Blinding Lasers; (V) Explosive Remnants of War (ERWs). Other issues remain unresolved in the context of the CCW, such as a compliance mechanism, a provision to ban small-caliber bullets, as well as a ban on cluster munitions and a restriction on the use of anti-vehicle mines. During last year’s 4th Review Conference for the CCW held in November 2011, a controversial debate arose regarding an attempt by some states to negotiate a new protocol focused on cluster munitions. In addition to the problem of adopting a framework that would ultimately allow for the use of cluster munitions is a larger normative problem insofar as such a protocol  would represent the adoption of an application of IHL that is weaker than a previously, and generally accepted, law in the form of the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM). The CCM comprehensively bans the use of cluster munitions and has been signed and ratified by 111 states parties. The cluster munitions protocol was ultimately blocked, which was deemed a great victory by civil society and many states parties alike.

This year, the CCW HCPs convened for the 6th Conference on Protocol V on ERWs, the 14th Conference on Amended Protocol II, and a two-day Meeting of States Parties (MSP). In particular, the two-day session assessing implementation of Protocol V was a refreshingly practical and beneficial exchange among HCPs as well as civil society experts who are working directly on mine action activities. Protocol V was adopted in November 2003 covering both abandoned and unexploded ordnance. The President of the Conference, Ambassador Akram of Pakistan, led Conference discussions on the themes of universalization; clearance, removal or destruction of ERWs; victim assistance; national reporting; generic preventative measures; cooperation and assistance and requests for assistance; and follow-up mechanisms. HCPs to the Protocol, other HCPs, observer states, the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and other non-governmental organizations actively engaged in information exchange and the sharing of best practices on these themes in order to promote and improve full implementation of Protocol V. The ICRC had convened a meeting of experts the previous week to explore implementation challenges of Article IV of the Protocol related to recording, retaining and transmission of information. The delegation of UNMAS also encouraged HCPs to make greater use of the International Ammunition Technical Guidelines (IATG) adopted last year in the General Assembly. As for follow-up, the Conference decided that the next Meeting of Experts would take place from 10-12 April 2013 in Geneva and, as noted by the delegate of the European Union, Meetings of Experts are important for assessing progress and building on the substantive discussions of previous years.

Since the last CCW gathering, three new signatories have joined Protocol V—Lao People’s Democratic Republic, South Africa, and Turkmenistan—while the delegations of Cuba and Montenegro announced their intention to begin the process of acceding to the Protocol. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised the work of Protocol V HCPs in addressing the challenges of states affected by ERWs, with a particular focus on safe storage of ammunition, sharing of best practices, and assessing fulfillment of Protocol obligations. The delegation of South Africa noted that the issue of ERWs is particularly alarming for the international community as almost every armed conflict generates ERWs that continue to wreak havoc on societies long after active hostilities cease. Observer states that are not a party to the Protocol, including the delegations of Lesotho and Yemen, also underscored the importance of universalization of the Protocol.

Following a general exchange of views, delegations received individual briefings from the respective Coordinators appointed on the various thematic issues and correspondingly adopted relevant recommendations included in the final adopted outcome document. This issue-specific format lent itself to a robust and constructive engagement on the technical aspects of implementation of Protocol V. The US delegation expressed its preference for these sessions noting, “The plenary format does not encourage an exchange of views.” With regards to universalization, HCPs requested the President-designate to consider reporting to the next session of the General Assembly on his/her endeavors. Furthermore, HCPs also agreed to continue consideration of clearance, removal or destruction of ERWs through capacity-building in the areas of surveillance, clearance and removal at the community level. They also agreed to continue to share practices and experiences among HCPs. The plan of action for victim assistance was also identified as a core component of mine action strategy and praised “the heart of the mandate” of the Protocol V instrument. Moreover, the Coordinator of this session noted the links between victim assistance and development, and HCPs agreed to continue to promote data collection and needs assessment, in particular “with regard to disaggregated data on gender and children as well as information on the needs of families of victims…” The delegation of Chile rightly noted that victim assistance is covered in a central chapter of implementation of the Convention and its practical value in this context is clear.

Recommendations on cooperation and assistance as well as national reporting were also adopted, in particular a recommendation on encouraging greater use of the Guide to National Reporting, which was adopted by the 4th Conference. The HCPs also committed to continue to address one specific technical issue directly related to the implementation of Article 9 and Part 3 of the Technical Annex of Protocol V, which includes important practical measures such as munitions manufacturing management, training, transfer, and future production. The delegation of UNMAS encouraged meetings of ERW-affected states to discuss their priorities and views. Likewise, the delegation of Australia, which is currently serving as chair of the Mine Action Service Group (MASG), underscored national ownership and capacity building with regards to cooperation and assistance requests. The UNMAS delegation also highlighted the importance of coordination for cooperation and assistance and noted the role of the UN system in serving as a conduit for such assistance requests. NGO colleagues also offered useful interventions. The Mine Action Group (MAG), for instance, offered its reflections on the work it has conducted in mine action on the ground in diverse global regions. In a similar fashion, the delegations of the Philippines and the US also offered detailed presentations on their national experience related to clearance and removal of ERWs in post-conflict settings.

As stated by the delegation of the Holy See during the general debate, ERWs not only pose a safety problem, but also a regional security challenge. Although no “new,” groundbreaking issues related to Protocol V were highlighted or resolved this session, the continued interest and enthusiasm around its universalization and robust implementation are important for both the disarmament and human rights communities as advocates and diplomats alike work to prevent gross human suffering during acts of warfare. It is essential that HCPs, in the context of Protocol V as well as the broader CCW framework, address not only the devastating humanitarian effects of such weapons during conflict, but also post-conflict and even during times of peace. As was noted by UNMAS and other delegations, unplanned explosions of munitions and ammunition sites are increasing risks and deserve attention at all times. Damage from unplanned explosions at munitions sites is far more costly than implementation of generic preventative measures that seek to curb this threat.

Many lessons can be drawn from the work on Protocol V of the CCW, namely the central role of victim assistance, the strong emphasis placed on national reporting and corresponding national templates, and the robust and regular exchange of information and best practices in an issue-specific format. With many other related processes underway in the disarmament and human rights fields, including the ongoing arms trade treaty (ATT) process and the Programme of Action on the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons (SALWs), the hope is that CCW practices based on the values of transparency and accountability will inspire these parallel processes. Such core principles must be an inherent part of any successful arms control, disarmament, or humanitarian instrument seeking to make a concrete difference on the ground.


—Katherine Prizeman