Tag Archives: GeneralAssembly

Facing History and Ourselves: GA Debate on the Role of International Criminal Justice in Reconciliation

15 Apr

On April 10, the President of the General Assembly’s Office initiated a 1 ½ day event focused on the relationship of international justice – specifically the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) – and prospects for national and regional reconciliation. The President of the GA offered opening remarks.

The event drew a large crowd of diplomats and a few civil society representatives, though many of the folks we spoke with came for the spectacle as much as for the content.    Many were aware of the decision by several invited persons – including Adama Dieng, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, and Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch – to cancel their participation in the event precisely because of the specter of a contentious and one-sided event that hung over the room.

Those who chose to stay away had their share of good reasons to do so.  The event itself was a carefully choreographed and at times intellectually dishonest exercise that sought to rehabilitate the reputation of the Serbian government and people by attacking the foundations of the system of international justice for which Serbian government behavior was an initial impetus.

The event may have done more to polarize the international community than to help explore legitimate concerns regarding the effectiveness of our international legal architecture, specifically concerns focused on the unresolved inconsistencies of the system of justice established by the UN Security Council – itself a politically compromised body.   Sadly the event did too little to enhance understanding of how international law functions, the nature and limitation of Tribunal mandates, or the complementary functions needed to establish conditions of positive reconciliation.  It should be noted here that it was not specifically the task of the Tribunal to promote conditions for reconciliation divorced from (often neglected) initiatives by other parts of the UN system let alone by the regional States themselves.

Nor was there any discussion of how the behavior of Serbs and others led us down the path where Tribunals were considered to be a viable option to national courts which, 20 years after this phase of violence commenced, have still proven themselves unwilling and unable to prosecute their own.   The Serbs-as-victims line is not completely without merit, insofar as international efforts to end impunity were selective and inadvertently reinforced negative stereotypes about Serbian ethnic communities, even regarding the ability of their newly elected representatives to contribute as viable members of the international community.  But such damage has remedial options that should have been explored carefully, one of which should NOT have been calls to dismantle the Tribunal, especially with key figures still awaiting trial. Moreover, we must have more clarity regarding what is wrong with the Tribunals, what can be fixed, and how we would avoid making the same mistakes again in other international fora mandated to end impunity for the most horrible, State-sanctioned crimes.

There is certainly merit to attempts to understand more clearly the limitations and compromises of our system of international criminal justice.   They clearly exist, and it would be wrong to sweep them under the rug.   At the same time, many of the complaints throughout the event were as unbalanced as the alleged behaviors of international prosecutors and their judicial processes.   Below I attempt to wade through what I and others felt to be a swamp of sloppy and compromised analysis to make the following points:

  • While it is important for any Tribunal to be sensitive to the impacts of their prosecutions and convictions on public perceptions, it is commonplace for victims of abuse to be dissatisfied with the results of court action that presumes to apply justice to victims’ allegations.   Courts must weigh options and evidence.   They cannot convict if there is insufficient evidence, regardless of the need of victims for conviction.   Nor can a Tribunal impose punitive measures beyond relevant sentencing guidelines.   It would appear that the Tribunal did its work within an environment where governments and constituents were rooting for it to fail.   That it has partially succeeded in fulfilling its mandate has little to do with levels of regional cooperation, including efforts to understand and work with the Tribunal’s limitations.  The Tribunal was treated by many as more like a tax collector to be spurned than a reconciler to be welcomed, officials’ contentions to the contrary.
  • Moreover, a Tribunal is not responsible for addressing all violations of law, but only those that rise to a level that establishes a clear and compelling interest for international prosecutors. While many of us, for good reason, recoil from the notion of symbolic justice – that is, prosecuting some as a ‘lesson’ to others – there is clearly a tendency to focus the attention of Tribunals on the highest established levels of accountability for gross violence and violations of rights.  Given the many resource and political limitations of the Tribunal, there is little justification for spending time on the equivalent of ‘street level drug dealers’ when the narcotics bosses are firmly within your sights.
  • Tribunals were established by the Security Council as a function of its (self-perceived) Charter-mandated responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.   Many States are uncomfortable (as are we) with the recent history of Council effort to expand its own mandate beyond what we believe to be the intent of the Charter.  Nevertheless, it is not clear where the viable, authorized alternatives might be to Council oversight of peace and security concerns, especially if we accept, which some on the panels clearly did not, that State “sovereignty implies responsibility” for the protection of civilian populations.  Invoking a recycled, Westphalian notion of sovereignty, as some participants did, was most unfortunate.   States participate in the UN, not because it is perfect or because they are rushing to cede national authority to international institutions, but because they recognize the limitations of State centrism in a multi-polar world.     There are things that States want and need that they simply cannot get within a system that holds them solely and rigorously responsible for all internal matters – including the economy, security and international justice.
  • As highlighted on day 2 of the GA debate, a clear majority of States continue to support (in theory and even in practice) the work of international Tribunals while affirming the duty of responsible parties to ensure that justice is pursued in a fair, impartial and vigorous manner.  But it is also clear that ‘responsible parties’ are not confined to Council members and Tribunal officials.   They also include States and the political entities within States.   It is clear to most States that the fair and equitable pursuit of justice in countries wracked by ethnic bitterness and massive human rights violations – let alone the larger agendas of national and regional reconciliation – cannot find success in the absence of support from those very same regional governments.      It was disturbing to many participants at this event that so few commitments to reconciliation – new or existing – were made or highlighted by the very States that were criticizing the limitations of the Tribunal in this area.      It is unfortunate at best for States that have not done nearly enough to foster national and regional reconciliation to claim that a Tribunal somehow has ‘magic bullets’ to share in this area.
  • National justice systems, as many States acknowledge, are ultimately the best setting for the adjudication of grave violations of human rights.   As our program partners in Guatemala indicate, their national courts are taking responsibility for sexual slavery and other crimes committed under previous governments, albeit tentatively and belatedly. National courts in Guatemala have advantages that do not accrue to international Tribunals, including having a more contextualized understanding of the impact of indictments and prosecutions on elements as diverse as national mood and access to justice.  We must utilize and support national judicial authorities wherever it is practical to do so, though the opinion of most at the GA debate is that we must also be able to supplement such capacity at the international level where needed.

At the end of the day, the debate failed some basic tenets of intellectual and political viability.   For instance, it seemed odd at best to attack the Tribunal for not solving problems inconsistent with its mandate, while essentially letting off the hook States and other stakeholders for which reconciliation tasks are very much within their sphere of responsibility.  Moreover,  to dismiss (as did some ‘scholars’ in this process) the relevance of international criminal justice altogether without any viable alternatives  or suggestions for practically modifying the limitations which were legitimately called to account seemed to us to be an unprofessional attempt to toss the baby out with the bathwater.

We can do better than this.  Thankfully, many participating States pointed us in a more fruitful way forward.


—Dr. Robert Zuber

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

2012 Substantive Session of the Disarmament Commission: Eager for Consensus

30 Mar

The United Nations Disarmament Commission (UNDC) is hailed as the ‘sole, multilateral deliberative body’ mandated to make recommendations on two or three specific issues related to disarmament, one of which must pertain to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. At the 2011 session the US delegation referred to the UNDC as a “deliberative think tank on arms control.” The UNDC, universal in its representation, a significant characteristic to note in contrast to the Conference on Disarmament (CD) that does not include the participation of all member states, is tasked to formulate consensus-based recommendations to be delivered to the General Assembly prior to the start of the First Committee such that those recommendations will be considered and integrated as part of the Committee’s agenda of work.

Unfortunately, the UNDC has been unable to agree upon and subsequently adopt any recommendations in more than a decade’s time. The conclusion of the 2011 session, without adoption of any substantive recommendations, marked the twelfth year of no agreement on any of the agenda items– nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, a declaration of the 2010s as the next disarmament decade, and confidence-building measures around conventional weapons. After three weeks of plenary meetings and working groups, many delegations were outspoken about their discontent, disappointment, and frustration. The Mexican delegation noted that this continued failure is unacceptable when the world is “threatened by nuclear weapons and excessive accumulation of destabilizing conventional weapons” stating that the only tangible result of the UNDC has been the expenditure of resources by taxpayers.

Frustration around the multilateral disarmament fora is not unique to the UNDC. The other obvious point of contention and frustration is, of course, the CD that has fought since 1998 to agree on a programme of work. The seemingly intractable stalemate in the Geneva-based body has become an alarming concern for member states, civil society, and the Secretary-General himself who has publicly stated that the CD is “no longer living up to expectations.”  Proposals for working outside of the CD have come to bear among delegations, particularly in terms of negotiating a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT).

Nonetheless, arms control and disarmament are not without their elements of optimism. The forthcoming Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) negotiations, although wrought with its own set of complexities and challenges, represent a majority opinion that arms transfers should be regulated by a set of common international standards. There is little doubt that such a treaty should exist, although the strengthen and scope of the future treaty remain unclear. Similarly, the Programme of Action on small arms (UNPoA) is a consensus-based framework, adopted by all member states in 2000, for national, regional, and international provisions for preventing and eradicating the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons (SALWs). Implementation of the PoA has had a mixed record overall, but the review process has nonetheless had marked success and continues to seek ways of strengthening implementation, most recently with last week’s Preparatory Committee for the August Review Conference. The Prep Com was able to achieve its goals of setting an agenda of work, adopting rules of procedure, and endorsing a Chair for the Review Conference (Ambassador Ogwu of Nigeria).

The 2012 session of the UNDC will begin a new three-year cycle and will meet for three weeks in both plenary and working group sessions chaired by Ambassador Enrique Roman-Morey of Peru. Consensus on its provisional agenda remains elusive. Some delegations have expressed interest in including an agenda item that includes an “introspective look” at the Commission’s role in the broader disarmament machinery and examines its working methods. However, there is no consensus on this point as some member states contend that the obstacle to adopting recommendations is not in the working methods, but rather the political will of states. There have also been calls for more specific subjects to be vetted rather than the generic and repetitive discussions often held in the UNDC rendering it irrelevant to the wider international security discourse.

The UNDC has the unique opportunity to deliberate disarmament and arms control issues in a universal forum prior to the start of the First Committee in the fall. Recommendations offered from the UNDC could help streamline and focus the vast spread of issues that need to be covered in the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) as well as underscore issues that are most important to member states. Moreover, as the CD has garnered much of the attention of the international community, albeit exclusively negative attention because of its current state of stalemate, the UNDC has the flexibility to arguably work with less politicization, and “fly under the radar” of sorts, while enjoying universal participation.

The UNDC must use this new cycle as a point of departure from the methods and habits of the last decade (such as generic statements of support for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament) to tackle the obstacles to consensus that have prevented the formulation of any principles, guidelines, or recommendations. In order to do so, it is important that member states address both the political will and the working methods issues. The stalemate is surely due in part to the lack of will of governments to commit to recommendations (even non-binding ones as they are). Likewise, the work of the UNDC has also been impeded by its methods insofar as member states continue to discuss the same issues in the same manner, ultimately leading to the same results year after y ear. It would be logical to explore alternative methods of work. It would be worthwhile to explore other ways of deliberating, such as inclusion of expert panels, NGO statements, or other specialized presentations that could contribute to the conversation.

Many member states identify disarmament and arms control, related to both weapons of mass destruction and conventional arms, as among the most pressing priorities on the international agenda. As such, the UNDC’s path towards irrelevance must be altered if these priorities are to be genuinely addressed in all forums available to the international community.

–Katherine Prizeman

PoA on Small Arms Prep Com Wrap Up: Looking Forward to August

26 Mar

As the Preparatory Committee (Prep Com) for the second Review Conference for reviewing the progress made on the implementation of the Programme of Action on small arms (PoA) has come to a close, member states are prepared to meet again in August to take a more detailed look at the successes and failures related to combating the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons (SALWs). The small arms process is a critical forum for discussing the many human security-related implications of the proliferation of illicit arms as well as the diversion of arms from legal sales. Small arms are indeed an issue to be dealt with in multiple security discussions from sexual and gender-based violence in armed conflict to the commission of mass atrocity crimes. Therefore, regular and transparent reviews of the PoA are a vital component of improving security on the national, regional, and international levels.

The second Review Conference for the PoA to be held in August is based on a universally-accepted General Assembly resolution (66/47), thus granting the process a healthy degree of credibility and consensus. Although controversies exist around expansion of the PoA, such as granting it a legally-binding status and expanding its scope to include ammunition, there is little argument that the PoA’s provisions, if adopted according to national needs and conducive to individual challenges, can and will prevent the illicit trade in SALWs and its dire consequences for international peace and security. Successful implementation of the PoA, as it is not legally-binding and puts forth a comprehensive blueprint of national, regional, and international measures to combat illicit small arms trade, requires robust trust and capacity building among member states and other relevant stakeholders such that national implementers have sufficient capacity and investment levels to adopt these measures.

This week’s Prep Com provided member states with the opportunity to adopt rules of procedure and an agenda as well as hold an exchange of views, in light of the time constraints of just five days, on potential elements for discussion in August. Substantive discussion was focused in large part on the need for more robust and comprehensive international assistance and cooperation for full implementation of the PoA. Additionally, member states addressed the follow-up mechanisms of the PoA, in particular the role of future meetings such as Meetings of Governmental Experts (MGE) on technical implementation capacities such as marking, tracing, recordkeeping, and activities around border controls. However, as noted by several delegations during the week, the Prep Com and subsequent Review Conference also provide for a valuable reaffirmation of commitment to strengthening and enhancing implementation of the PoA and the fight against the scourge of illicit weapons.

A Final Report was indeed adopted, although it is entirely procedural and technical in nature. Several delegations also submitted helpful Working Papers over the course of the week that enhanced the exchange of views during the week as well as for future deliberations. These papers included one from the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) on international assistance and cooperation, one from Japan on follow-up mechanisms, and two more comprehensive papers covering all aspects of the PoA’s implementation from the European Union and Germany, respectively. These Working Papers will certainly add to the bounty of documents to be used during the inter-sessional period between the Prep Com and the Review Conference as the Chair and member states hold informal consultations to determine the best way forward in more effectively implementing the PoA’s provisions. Background documentation for the Review Conference will also include the Chair’s summary from the MGE from May 2011, from Ambassador Jim McLay of New Zealand, representing the first of its kind. Many delegations expressed interest in more meetings of this nature to dissect in more technical terms how implementers from capitals can better adopt the PoA’s measures in practice. The Chair’s summary, under the authorship of Chair Ambassador Ogwu of Nigeria, laid forth views expressed by member states during the week according to the structure of the PoA itself—measures to combat illicit trade at the national, regional, and international levels; international cooperation and assistance; follow-up mechanisms to the Review Conference; and review of the International Tracing Instrument (ITI). The summary was not a consensus document, but did its best to summarize views and recommendations made by member states to improve implementation and does serve as a beneficial starting point for discussions both in informal consultations and in August’s Review Conference.

In looking forward, it is important to bear in mind the significance of the PoA. The PoA directly addresses the scourge of illicit weapons and seeks to garner control over their proliferation by concrete measures including stockpile management and disposal, border control mechanisms, and firearms marking and tracing. This is an instrument, accepted by the international community on the whole, that can in fact prevent and eradicate human suffering associated with armed violence and other forms of conflict committed with SALWs, which is no small contribution to international security.

There are many aspects of the PoA that require further elaboration and information exchange among all member states to deal with this complicated and comprehensive challenge. However, there are several issues that, in our view, merit particular attention:

  • Developing national action plans (NAP) on SALWs would serve as an excellent confidence-building measure, although not without its difficulties given the example found in the women, peace and security framework.  Such NAPs have not been entirely successful in the context of Security Council Resolution (SCR) 1325 as most states still have not formulated a NAP in the almost twelve years since the Resolution’s adoption;
  • Focusing on the need for peacekeeping operations to address safe storage and disposal of SALWs as part of Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) programs;
  • Discussing SALW issues in other UN frameworks  and mandates including 1325, the Special Representative on children and armed conflict, and the Special Representative on conflict-related sexual violence, among others;
  • Setting up and institutionalizing other MGEs in the PoA small arms process such that there are regular gatherings of national, technical experts directly responsible for implementing the PoA’s provisions;
  • Identifying which of the PoA/ITI commitments will require further elaboration in a diplomatic setting and setting up meetings and agendas to address them in the appropriate forum

The Prep Com offered much hope for addressing the deadly consequences of illicit SALWs. It accomplished its procedural goals as well as initiated a substantive discussion that, although will require much more diplomatic wrangling in order to identify points of viable consensus, was wrought with important security themes. Diplomats and non-governmental stakeholders alike must use the inter-sessional period to prepare in the best way possible for the Review Conference by vetting proposals already presented as well as formulating new ones.

–Katherine Prizeman

Assessing the 2011 GA Session

27 Dec

The President of the 66th General Assembly (PGA), Ambassador Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser of Qatar, recently hailed the plenary body of the UN for its collective work on the most pressing global issues of our time noting that the GA has adopted nearly 300 resolutions and decisions during its main session. The main pillars of the 66th session, as laid forth by the PGA, have been peaceful settlement of disputes; UN reform and revitalization; improving disaster prevention and response; and promoting sustainable development and global prosperity. The PGA made particular mention of the importance of disarmament, especially nuclear disarmament, and the key requirement of breaking the stalemate in the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament that is considered to be the sole multilateral negotiating body for disarmament. Other achievements underscored by the PGA were the actions taken on Libya, the political declaration adopted on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases, and the application by the Palestinian Authority for full membership.

In light of the conclusion of the main session of the GA, it is important to assess not only the substantive accomplishments of the body, but the role of the GA writ large. Long after the heads of state and heads of government have returned to their capitals in September, the GA must settle down to the difficult and complex work of its committees to address challenging global issues. The higher profile issues of this year’s session have surely stolen  many headlines, in particular the Palestinian membership question, and have often eclipsed some of the less controversial, albeit still extremely significant, work of the GA. The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) is still grappling with the task of breaking the stalemate in the Conference on Disarmament to begin negotiating, among other important treaties, a Fissile Cut-Off Material Treaty (FMCT); the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) must deal with challenging issues related to macroeconomic policy questions such as international trade, financing for development, poverty eradication, and human settlements; the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural) encompasses some of the most difficult questions of human rights, the advancement of women, indigenous peoples, and treatment of refugees.

As such, behind the more pronounced, headline-grabbing issues are a litany of concerns that are so complex that they appear on the GA’s agenda year after year. These issues are neither small agenda items nor easily evaluated and accomplished tasks. Nonetheless, the value of discussing these transnational issues in the only truly global forum is paramount. Equality in representation gives the GA process an innate value independent from its lack of enforcing power and cumbersome bureaucratic procedures. As previously mentioned, the GA often counts among its most impressive accomplishments ‘political declarations’ that, although they have no legally-binding provisions, carry considerable weight by symbolizing the general sense of the international community on a given global issue.

It follows, then, that while it is admirable that the program of work for the 66th session has been far-reaching, the more concrete the goals of the GA are the more easily it is to assess and ultimately evaluate the progress of the body such that improvements can be made year to year. The trade-off for universal membership, however, appears to be this concrete evaluation and enforcement power. It is also clear that any sort of ‘evaluation’ of the UN’s work, especially from the perspective of the general public, is done through a peace and security lens. Often through this lens, the deficiencies of the UN are glaring– the inability to eliminate nuclear weapons, to curb the illicit arms trade, to ensure women’s full participation in all peace policies and processes, and to provide robust early warning and diplomacy to respond to the threat of atrocity crimes. Nevertheless, these security concerns are indivisible and have implications for all of the UN’s work from human rights to development such that this narrower lens of evaluation is not so skewed as to be entirely devoid of value.

As is often argued by observers of the UN, there is currently no alternative available as a viable multilateral system for addressing international issues on a broad spectrum. Therefore, it is important to continue to work within the framework that exists, while simultaneously pushing for improvements to fill in and ultimately improve on the ‘cracks’ in the system. The hope is that the GA will continue to improve its process and make honest overtures towards addressing its very lengthy list of global concerns.

-Katherine Prizeman

Looking Towards the ATT in 2012

17 Nov

As the First Committee of the General Assembly has come to a close, delegations appear ready, some enthusiastically and others more hesitatingly, to move towards the final negotiations. Whether this negotiating will be based on the most recent Chair’s Paper from Ambassador Moritan or not, it seems that member states are anticipating transition from the preparatory process to concrete Treaty text.  It is to be assumed that the very ambitious Chair’s Paper from July 14, 2011 will not be entirely replicated in the text, but it surely lays forth the existing proposals that will require honest and practical vetting over the three-week period of the Conference. Ambassdor Moritan’s presence at the First Committee enabled member states to hear, once more, the various proposals and divisions that still exist around the ATT underscoring the vast challenges that lie ahead. Ambassador Moritan is under no illusions regarding the complexity of the process as he noted the levels of ambition regarding the ATT are vastly different. The final PrepCom in February will be focused on the parameters and so-called rules of engagement for negotiations rather than a broad thematic discussion of scope and content specifics.

We continue to advocate for strong emphasis on diversion risks as this issue remains at the heart of curbing the illicit arms trade. Addressing this issue will require special attention to the practice of diverting arms from legitimate end users to non-state and unauthorized parties who may use such weapons for criminal, corrupt, and abusive purposes. It is often in this indirect, and sometimes unintentional on the part of governments, manner that the arms trade becomes a harmful practice. The strength of the language on this issue in the Treaty text is still undecided. As the Chair’s Paper from July 2011 noted, “A State Party shall not authorize a transfer of conventional arms if there is a substantial risk that those conventional arms would…” undermine peace and security in various forms such as to commit violations of international human rights law. One major question for advocates of a strong humanitarian instrument in the ATT is whether the words “shall not” will be changed to “should not,” which inherently alters this responsibility from obligation to suggestion.

This issue of diversion language is but one example of difficult work ahead. We submit that the first iteration of the Treaty may not be ideal for all states parties, but it is the responsibility of all negotiators to take into account that such a Treaty should function as a floor and not a ceiling for improving state arms transfer controls. Implementation of ATT language in national practice will be just as important as the text itself for without implementation the language is empty wording. Therefore, sufficient discussion next year must be focused on implementation support and corresponding structure. We also encourage delegations to put in place a sound review process that will allow for ATT negotiations to continue well passed 2012 such that the ATT can effectively respond to changing international security risks.

The overwhelming trend in conversation in this year’s Committee has been support for both the preparatory process and the leadership of Ambassador Moritan as well as the inarguable need for better regulation of the arms trade. Building on these consensus points, we are hopeful that next year’s conference will, in fact, yield an ATT that will improve the global arms trade process. The question of its robustness and expansiveness, however, remains unanswered.

For more information on the ATT, follow @DisarmDialogues, @controlarms, @TheIANSA, and @VinoThorsen on Twitter and follow the ATT blog featuring various contributors from different organizations working on this issue.

-Katherine Prizeman

Upcoming at GA66: mediation, dispute settlements and the role of women

18 Aug

The role of mediation to reconcile opposing claims and appease resentment was recognized in the 1907 Hague Convention. The concept continues. The upcoming opening General Assembly debate the role of mediation in the settlement of disputes by peaceful means, chaired by Qatar, will build upon the Assembly’s  June 2011 Resolution on strengthening the role of mediation – recognizing the importance of: women’s participation, resources from member states, quality mediation, continued SG support and UN capacity, international, regional and subregional organizations and civil society.

Qatar has put the role of mediation as a “key priority” during its term as president as the “high-level debate” is to be held at the opening of the Assembly’s 66th session.

There is an abundance of literature on peace mediation best practice. Going by the evidence, the General Assembly’s resolution is on the right track – at least in rhetoric –  especaily with its recognition of the the gender dimension:  increased participation of and leadership of women in mediation.

However, the UN itself might be a good place to start. GAPW is a member of the Working Group on Women Peace and Security (NGOWG). In an open letter to UN member states, NGOWG  stated that despite the UN recognition of the important role of women in mediation, they remain:

“overwhelmingly excluded from mediation efforts, and their rights and concerns are not consistently and concretely included in regular mediation practice. At the international level, the United Nations has still never appointed a women as a high level mediator, as called for most recently in A/RES/65/283, OP 9.

Given the continuing barriers that women in particular face in gaining access to these processes, and the differential impact that armed conflict often has on women, we encourage you to emphasize the following key points in your statement at this year’s General Debate:

  • The importance of ensuring women’s rights are fundamental to all guidelines and good practice established regarding mediation;

  • The necessity of embedding women’s rights in content of all peace agreements, and the role of mediators in assisting negotiating parties as to how this can be done;

  • The central role women can play in all prevention efforts, and the need to support and promote women’s participation in all these efforts;

  • The urgent need for the UN to appoint senior women mediators appointed by the UN, which would set an important example for promoting women’s participation in peace policies and processes; and

  • It would be particularly striking for you to speak of any examples of support your country has given to women’s inclusion in mediation processes and ensuring women’s rights in peace agreements. Publicizing women’s engagement in mediation would send a strong signal to the international community of your national commitment to women’s empowerment.”

If the UN is sincere about this issue, action over rhetoric is required. Can the UN deliver? Will the role of women in mediation be properly addressed?