Tag Archives: Geneva

Fueling the Syrian Conflict From All Sides

29 May

As the conflict in Syria rages on, ostensibly slipping further and further into an increasingly grievous civil war, the European Union decided on 28 May 2013 to lift an arms embargo thereby allowing for the option to provide arms to the Syrian rebels fighting against President Bashar Al-Assad and his government. The decision to lift the embargo was supported mainly by the UK and France. Catherine Ashton, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, remarked that the non-renewal of the arms embargo comes with certain conditions—weapons can only be sent to the so-called moderate Syrian National Coalition and the affiliated Free Syria Army and can only be used to “protect civilians.” While the embargo sets the stage for weapons transfers to the Syrian rebels, there is no immediate plan to begin authorizations of weapons as the earliest possible time for such transfers would be August 2013 (after a conference is to be held in Geneva next month to negotiate a peace agreement). Nevertheless, this policy change is indeed a worrisome development in the context of a bloody, prolonged, and seemingly intractable civil conflict in a region of unsettling politics and violence. Several countries have rightly argued that more weapons will inevitably mean more death and destruction no matter to which parties to the conflict they are intended.

Particularly in light of the recent adoption of an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in the UN General Assembly (set to be open for signature next week on 3 June 2013), the dangers of transferring conventional arms to governments (or, in this case, entities) with the potential to violate international humanitarian law, international human rights law, undermine peace and security, or be used to commit acts of gender-based violence or violence against children are highly relevant to the debate over supplying arms to “stabilize” a conflict versus “exacerbating” the violence. The original intent and impetus of an ATT—preventing the human suffering associated with the unregulated and illicit arms trade—are interestingly on display in the Syria case. The human suffering apparent in the Syrian context is indisputable. The UN estimates that nearly 80,000 individuals have died in addition to the dire refugee and displacement crises and the overall disruption of livelihoods. Such violence has been committed with imported (legally and illicitly) weapons of all kinds as arms flow into and within the region. Moreover, the dangers of “legitimate” arms falling into the hands of “non-legitimate” entities are even more severe in the context of Syria given the lack of information on the rebel groups and the instability of the region writ large. The determination of which groups are the “legitimate” representatives of the Syrian people is hardly clear.

Applying the ATT to the Syrian case is not straightforward, but an interesting case study nonetheless. Export assessment criteria represent the linchpin of the ATT operability insofar as these criteria must be examined prior to any arms authorization by the exporting states party. The agreed criteria in the ATT do provide an interesting backdrop to the discussion of whether or not such export authorizations are in line with international legal obligations. Of course, a major difference (and ultimately a major complication and what would seem a “loophole” in the Syria case) that must be noted is that the ATT covers inter-governmental transfers and does not explicitly elaborate on criteria related to transfers to non-state actors. A prohibition against transfers to non-state actors was a hotly debated issue during the ATT negotiations and, ultimately, was not included in the final text. Many of the loudest objectors to the text, including many Arab states and the three states that formally objected to the text at the conclusion of the March 2013 negotiations (the DPRK, Iran, and Syria), noted the absence of this prohibition as a major oversight in the drafting. They noted that although the majority of states called for this prohibition, it was purposefully left out. Therefore, the ATT, even if it had already entered into force and the relevant parties were state parties, would not apply in this case. If instruments such as the ATT are to have a real impact, then treaty criteria must be incorporated into all export decisions and not just those which are explicitly referenced. Otherwise, a policy of criteria avoidance could be easily adopted and implemented.

In the same week that the EU lifted the embargo, the Russian government announced that it would move ahead with the transfer of anti-aircraft missiles to the sitting Syrian government as a “stabilizing factor” that would “deter” foreign intervention into the conflict. It is clear that arming either side—the Assad regime or the rebel groups—is doing little to bring the violence to an end or address the dire humanitarian crisis. The Syrian conflict has ultimately moved from a rebellion to a civil war to a regional war by proxy with external forces such as Iran and Russia eager to counterbalance moves by the EU and the US.

The insertion of more weaponry on either side has little hope for changing the political or practical dynamics of the conflict and, thus, instigating hopes for bringing forth a negotiated peace. As Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted to the Human Rights Council in Geneva recently, “The message from all of us should be the same: we will not support this conflict with arms, ammunition, politics or religion.”


–Katherine Prizeman

Open-ended Working Group on Nuclear Disarmament Convenes in Geneva

20 May

The Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) to “Develop proposals to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations for the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons” began its first session in Geneva last week. Thus far, member states, members of civil society, and representatives of international organizations have engaged in discussions in the context of thematic panels such as “Multilateral treaty-based obligations and commitments”; “Nuclear weapon free areas”; “Other initiatives and proposals”; and “Lessons learned: Transparency, confidence-building measures and verification”. While the general tone seems to be positive inasmuch as this OEWG represents a welcome opportunity to address the substantive issues around nuclear disarmament, particularly in light of the prolonged stalemate effective across the UN disarmament machinery. Nevertheless, there remains hesitation from some member states regarding diverting attention from the Conference on Disarmament (CD), abandoning the so-called “step by step” approach, and taking any measures that might alienate the nuclear weapon states (NWS).

OEWG presentations from the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), academics such as Ward Wilson, and civil society representatives including those from Reaching Critical Will (RCW) and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) have enriched the conversation through concrete and substantive proposals and reflections on the current state of nuclear disarmament. Generally, members of civil society reiterated that maintenance of the status quo is simply unsustainable and unacceptable. Ward Wilson, author of Rethinking Nuclear Weapons, offered remarks on the “mistakes” made in understanding the utility, use, and overarching properties of nuclear weapons. In particular, Wilson underscored the myth of “deterrence” as well as the notion that nuclear weapons are anything but clumsy, immoral and dangerous. Likewise, Beatrice Fihn of RCW, a member of ICAN, reminded delegations that while the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is a “landmark” agreement representing the only binding, multilateral commitment to nuclear disarmament by the NWS, this commitment lacks a timeframe or any other concrete requirement beyond the obligation to simply “pursue negotiations.”

Issues stemming from a “Ban Treaty,” as opposed to a comprehensive treaty complete with disarmament obligations and a verification regime, were also addressed. Thomas Nash of Article 36, also a member of ICAN, outlined in more detail what a proposed “Ban Treaty” would require. Nash stated that such a treaty is envisioned by its proponents as “a step in a process—the ban would be an additional tool towards a nuclear weapons free world” noting that elimination usually follows prohibition. Furthermore, Nash identified three “framings” for a ban on nuclear weapons—fulfilling existing disarmament obligations, particularly those codified in Article VI of the NPT, building on nuclear weapon free zones, and banning all forms of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Additionally, much attention has been rightfully paid by civil society to the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and the refocusing of the disarmament debate on this humanitarian initiative that has been reinforced through joint statements at the NPT Preparatory Committee (Prep Com) in May and the UNGA First Committee last October.

While the substance of the panelists is important in its own right, the general exchange of views among member states revealed continued reluctance to fully embrace comprehensive proposals for moving forward on nuclear disarmament. Moreover, many delegations are still loath to engage in a process perceived as “alternative” to the CD. Ambassador Mehta of India, representing a nuclear weapon state outside of the NPT regime, was clear in her general statement that nuclear disarmament can only be achieved “by a step-by-step process underwritten by a universal commitment and an agreed multilateral framework that is global and non-discriminatory,” as well as reached by consensus. Likewise, Ambassador Hoffman of Germany supported the notion that “a big bang creating a world without nuclear weapons is highly unlikely” and, therefore, “building blocs” were needed to make practical progress towards this larger objective. Ambassador Hoffman went so far as to say that it is “simply not true” that the “step by step” approach has not yielded results and that the NPT, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the IAEA safeguards and Additional Protocol are examples of successful results. The delegation of Sweden agreed that the “most viable” way forward was a continuous process of adding agreements and commitments to existing ones to build a “stronger international regime.” Such a regime, the Swedish delegation argued, would require the nuclear possessor states’ participation. This is a position in stark contrast to that of ICAN and other civil society advocates who believe that a treaty negotiated by non-nuclear weapons states (NNWS) would be a ‘game changer’ regarding the legal framework governing nuclear weapons and, thus, have an impact beyond those states that would be most likely to formally adopt it in the first instance (impacting the nuclear possessor states—the NPT NWS as well as the DPRK, India, Israel, and Pakistan).

In contrast to those delegations that continue to cling to the perceived indispensability of a “step by step” approach, the delegation of Ireland strongly (and in our view rightly) spoke out against this approach in its general statement debunking the myth that the “step by step” approach is the only logical way forward. The delegation questioned the narrative of ‘sequencialism’ proposed by other states noting that such “steps” are neither identified nor clearly explained. The Irish delegation also called for an appraisal of conceptual terms during the OEWG, as well as a robust review of the practical implications of such proposals and concepts. Ultimately, unwavering commitment to a sequential approach has not, as the delegation of Germany insisted in its statement, yielded results at the level necessary for achieving genuine nuclear disarmament. More specifically, in terms of the “successes” identified by Ambassador Hoffman, there is much to be desired. The NPT’s credibility has been increasingly questioned due in large part to the failure to convene a conference on the establishment of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East as well as the lack of tangible progress with regards to Article VI obligations. The levels of frustration around the inability to fulfill the items laid out in the 2010 NPT Action Plan, most especially the 22 items that related to disarmament, are only growing (as evidenced by the decision of the Egyptian delegation to withdraw from the recent NPT Prep Com session). Furthermore, while negotiation of the CTBT is welcome, its seemingly permanent status in “entry-into-force limbo” is hardly impressive and the IAEA safeguards and Additional Protocol have a distinct non-proliferation bias.

Precisely what the OEWG will yield, beyond the resolution-mandated report that it must submit to both the upcoming session of the First Committee in the fall and to the CD, is unclear. Nevertheless, the Irish delegation was correct in stating that reiterating proposals and concepts is not enough. Rather an emphasis on “taking forward” negotiations and assessing the practical implications of approaches are vital to the success of the OEWG. If the obligation to develop proposals to “take forward” multilateral disarmament negotiations is not vigorously pursued throughout these OEWG sessions, it will be difficult to label them a success, as opposed to a lost opportunity.


–Katherine Prizeman

Taking Forward Multilateral Disarmament Negotiations

13 May

The forthcoming Open-ended Working Group (OEWG), which will convene in Geneva for fifteen working days this year, has its first session from 14-24 May (with follow-up sessions 27-28 June and 19-30 August). The OEWG is a result of resolution A/C.1/67/L.31 tabled at the 2012 session of the First Committee by Austria, Mexico, and Norway entitled “Revitalizing the work of the Conference on Disarmament and taking forward multilateral disarmament negotiations.” This initiative was one of the more concrete results from the sixty-eighth session of the First Committee as it offered a tangible method of seeking to break the impasse currently paralyzing much of the UN disarmament machinery, including and most importantly, the so-called single, multilateral negotiating body for disarmament—the Conference on Disarmament (CD). The resolution called for the established of an OEWG (open to the participation of all member states as opposed to the limited membership of the CD) to “develop proposals to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations for the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons” as well as for the submission of a report to the next session of the General Assembly reflecting the discussions held and proposals made whereby a record of the work of the OEWG would be available to impact future discourse. The OEWG will be chaired by Costa Rican Ambassador Manuel Dengo.

While the mandate of the OEWG has never been entirely clear, it is assumed that the group will take up substantive issues rather than procedural ones. Ambassador Dengo wrote in his letter to member states which included a draft program of work for 14-24 May session, “The main purpose of the May session will be to promote better knowledge and understanding of the different aspects of nuclear disarmament and the challenges faced by multilateral nuclear disarmament.” As noted in Ambassador Dengo’s memo, the OEWG will operate in an interactive manner consisting of thematic panels with a more general exchange of views held at the conclusion of each panel. The centrality of interaction among member states, experts, civil society representatives, international organizations, and other relevant stakeholders is a most welcome aspect of the process. Discussions on disarmament, even when they are labeled “debates,” rarely feature such interactivity. Themes to be covered by the OEWG include: multilateral treaty-based obligations and commitments; nuclear weapon free zones (NWFZs); transparency, confidence-building measures and verification; the necessary framework to achieve and maintain a world without nuclear weapons; and the roles and responsibilities of nuclear weapon possessing states and non-nuclear weapon states.

While this thematic discussion is important, it would seem counterintuitive to discuss substantive proposals for taking forward nuclear disarmament negotiations without specifically addressing the procedural questions around the stalemate that continues to plague the CD (the de-facto reason why the OEWG has been established in the first place). Separation of the substantive from the procedural will not provide the necessary comprehensive approach to breaking the negotiating paralysis in the field of disarmament.

The current position of the nuclear non-Proliferation (NPT) nuclear weapon states (NWS), also known as the permanent 5 (P5), is that they will not participate in the OEWG, which is an unfortunate development. The P5 has generally opposed all initiatives and proposals that are perceived as “alternative” processes labeling them “distractions” from the measured, “step-by-step” approach they see as necessary to achieve nuclear disarmament. France, Russia, the UK, and the US all voted against the October 2012 resolution with China abstaining. During explanations of vote (EOV), the delegations of France, the UK, and the US offered a joint statement noting that the proposed OEWG seeks to “circumvent” established mechanisms such as the CD and the UN Disarmament Commission and does not clearly fit into the NPT framework and corresponding 2010 Action Plan. The same type of reasoning was offered with regards to the recent humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons conference held in Oslo in March 2012 that the P5 states jointly decided to boycott.

This reasoning is weak at best and hypocritical and contradictory at worst. The P5 themselves have started a so-called “alternative” and parallel process in the form of the Nuclear Security Summits (NSS) that began in Washington, DC in 2010, which was followed-up with another NSS in Seoul in 2012. Moreover, the argument that the work of the OEWG does not “fit into the NPT framework” is disingenuous. As is noted often and with an increasing sense of urgency and frustration by non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS) at NPT meetings, Article VI obligates the NWS to pursue good faith negotiations for the unequivocal and complete elimination of their nuclear arsenals. Establishing a body, not to mention one without a negotiating mandate, to discuss a range of themes related to Article VI obligations clearly fits within a larger framework of engagement and in no way threatens the (seemingly faltering) NPT regime.

The more pressing threat to the NPT regime is burgeoning frustration (embodied in the decision of the Egyptian delegation to withdraw from the 2013 NPT Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) session) over the failure to convene a conference on the establishment of a NWFZ in the Middle East pursuant to the 1995 resolution on the Middle East and the 2010 NPT Action Plan. The Egyptian delegation ominously stated in its final remarks to the 2013 NPT PrepCom before withdrawing, “We cannot continue to attend meetings and agree on outcomes that do not get implemented, yet to be expected to abide by the concessions we gave for this outcome,” referring to the indefinite extension of the NPT in exchange for the promise of the establishment of a NWFZ in the Middle East. It would seem that this growing fissure in the NPT framework, the so-called “cornerstone” of the nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime, is of much greater concern than the establishment of an OEWG, which is essentially an opportunity to discuss and brainstorm proposals without obligating any state to commit to binding agreements over already existing agreements (even those whose validity is now being seriously questioned).

The threats to the NPT regime, the increasing isolation of the P5 during the Oslo humanitarian consequences conference, the recent NPT PrepCom, and the forthcoming OEWG session, have all further opened up conversation among NNWS and civil society over the role these states should play in “taking forward” multilateral negotiations. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and others in civil society have advocated for NNWS to take the lead in establishing the necessary framework to obtain a world without nuclear weapons rather than continuously wait for the P5 to meet their Article VI obligations. ICAN has advocated for a “Ban Treaty” building on momentum spearheaded by the NNWS through the humanitarian consequences initiative that would hopefully change the global, political, and legal landscape surrounding the continued existence of nuclear weapons by negotiating and concluding a ban on the use, possession, stockpiling, trade, and manufacture of such weapons. Such a ban could be a simple treaty composed of general obligations with room for additional protocols to which the NWS could eventually sign, but would not necessarily have to negotiate. This course of action has been perceived as an approach different from a Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC), which envisages framing obligations not only to prohibit the development, testing, production, stockpiling transfer, use, and threat of use of nuclear weapons, but also to ensure their elimination through disarmament obligations and a verification regime (such as the obligations and verification mechanism in the Chemical Weapons Convention). A NWC, therefore, would necessitate the participation of the nuclear weapon possessors.

Whether there is a question of sequencing or whether a “Ban Treaty” could serve as a precursor to a NWC is not necessarily of the question of highest importance, but rather it is how to achieve nuclear abolition as comprehensively and quickly as possible. Perhaps a ban negotiated by the NNWS would inspire the P5 to negotiate an agreement among themselves to eliminate their arsenals in a reasonable period of time. Nevertheless, the call to NNWS to take a more prominent and active role in pursuing the goal of nuclear disarmament is essential to future progress towards this objective. Maintenance of the status quo is simply no longer an option given the stalemate across the UN disarmament machinery and the obstinacy on the part of the P5 with regards to any new proposals or initiatives seeking to address disarmament. Clearly they fear losing “veto power” derived from the consensus rule and the inherent imbalance in the NPT that ultimately privileges the NWS and their “step by step” process.

As the OEWG begins it work, there is some hope that the proposals gleaned from the discussions will provide the necessary injection of momentum to take forward disarmament negotiations that will genuinely make progress in nuclear disarmament, although it would seem that this will have to be done without the nuclear possessor states, which include the P5 as well as the DPRK, India, Israel, and Pakistan (those outside of the NPT regime). “Nobody should assume that any regime structured on a have/have-not principle can be sustained forever,” argued Angela Kane, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, at the Annual NATO Conference on WMD Arms Control, Disarmament, and Non-Proliferation on 6 May 2013. It is time for an honest appraisal of strategies through the OEWG for nuclear disarmament that do not perpetuate a regime that maintains the status quo.


–Katherine Prizeman

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

The CCW4 and Cluster Munitions

15 Nov

Currently, in Geneva, diplomats are convening the 4th Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW4) Review Conference. The Convention, negotiated by 51 states in 1980, seeks to outlaw specific types of conventional weapons used in armed conflict to protect military personnel from inhumane injury as well as non-combatants from harm. When the treaty entered into force in 1983, it covered  incendiary weapons, mines and booby traps, and weapons designed to injury through very small fragments. In 2001, the Convention was voted to cover intrastate conflict as well as international ones under all its provisions. There are five protocols in force: (1) Non-detectable fragments, (2) Landmines, booby traps, and other devices, (3) Incendiary weapons, (4) Blinding lasers, and (5) Explosive remnants of war.  A related piece of international law, the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), comprehensively bans the use of cluster munitions and was signed and ratified by 111 states.

The controversy now rests in the negotiations of a new protocol on cluster munitions for the CCW (Draft available here). Many advocates are concerned that this will severely undermine the ban under the CCM by providing cover for the future use of cluster munitions, which ultimately causes indiscriminate harm as well as the threat of explosion well beyond the end of the conflict in areas inhabited by civilians. Arms control advocates are arguing that this protocol will “provide a specific legal framework for their use.” The US and allies such as Israel, Brazil, India, and China, cite the ‘humanitarian’ provision in the protocol draft that bans the use of cluster munitions produced before 1980, although post-1980 munitions also cause indiscriminate harm to civilians and these older munitions would most likely have to be destroyed regardless of the protocol because of their age. The most recent use of cluster munitions reported in April 2011  used in civilian areas in Misurata by Qadaffi loyalists were contemporary weapons surely produced after 198o. The draft also allows for a deferral period of 12 years, which ultimately allows for use of weapons that will eventually be banned by the protocol.

As a back drop to adoption of a framework that allows for the use of cluster munitions is a larger normative problem: adoption of an instrument of international humanitarian law that is weaker than a previously (and generally accepted) adopted law. This is a dangerous undertaking that we hope the US and others will reconsider.

For up-to-date information on the negotiations, follow @marywareham, @banclusterbombs, and @nashthomas on Twitter.

-Katherine Prizeman

GA Plenary session on revitalization of the Conference on Disarmament

28 Jul

As requested by a group of like-minded states, the President of the GA, Joseph Deiss from Switzerland, held a plenary session as a follow-up to last September’s High-level meeting (HLM) on revitalization of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) towards pursuing multilateral negotiations. The CD is based in Geneva and has been deadlocked for about 15-years without being able to agree to a formal program of work because everything must be adopted by consensus. The CD is supposed to be the body that negotiates all multilateral disarmament treaties, as it was successful in producing the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention. However, it is stuck now on a possible Fissile Materials Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT). Some delegates are requesting that the negotiations be taken outside the CD, while others are adamant that the only body for negotiating is the CD. It is an interesting and important disarmament debate.

I encourage you to check RCW’s site for country statements.