Considering cooperation and assistance

March 2 2011, 12:19 PM  by Ray Acheson, Reaching Critical Will of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

Wednesday morning’s plenary meeting of the arms trade treaty (ATT) preparatory committee focused on possible elements of international cooperation and assistance, including victim assistance, that could be incorporated into the future treaty. Based on these deliberations, one could argue that these elements generally attract the most consensus among state positions, especially when compared with scope and criteria. All delegations seem to agree that the ATT must include provisions on international cooperation and assistance in order to ensure its effective and universal implementation. That said, divergences remain as to what types of assistance should be provided, how it should be regulated, and what the overall goal of such assistance should be.

The US and Israeli delegations, for example, emphasized that the ATT is about regulating the arms trade, not facilitating it. Therefore, they insisted that any cooperation and assistance must be limited to enhancing states’ ability to implement relevant controls, regulations, and procedures over weapons and should therefore not provide for “industrial cooperation”.

(One could argue that the technological transfers and industrial cooperation that are mentioned in the Chair’s paper seem to be directly related to setting up the systems of regulation that the US and Israeli delegations do support—they do not appear to be related to the production of weapons but to their regulation.)

The highest point of contention in Wednesday morning’s debate appeared to be over the inclusion of victim assistance in the treaty. Several delegations argue that if overall goal of the treaty is to prevent and reduce human suffering, the treaty should include provisions for victim rehabilitation and socioeconomic reintegration of victims of armed conflict. Others, however, feel strongly that an ATT should exclusively related the arms trade and not broach matters related to the use of arms. They, and even some countries that do indeed think the ATT should have a strong humanitarian perspective, see victim assistance provisions as out of place in the ATT context. The Costa Rica delegation, for example, argued that even though it would like to see an ATT with a main goal of reducing the cost in human life due to the arms trade, the objective of the ATT is not to eradicate or criminalize the arms trade but to regulate it.

(Perhaps some legal clarity is needed here, however, on whether or not providing assistance to a victim of the use of a weapon necessarily implies that the sale or transfer of that weapon is a criminal act.)

Costa Rica’s delegation, along with several others, argued that ultimately, victim assistance would be better covered by other UN fora or international arrangements, such as the Geneva Conventions and customary international humanitarian law.

A particularly unfortunate point of contention in Wednesday’s debate was over the inclusion of a gender perspective in the treaty. The delegations of Australia, Norway, Pacific Small Island Developing States, Tanzania, and United Kingdom suggested the treaty should address the impact of armed conflict on women and include a gender perspective in its provisions, in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions132518201888, and 1889. The Egyptian delegation, however, said it was “amazed” with the reference to the resolutions, saying that while it supports UNSCR 1325, “it is entirely about women” and that it is “entirely unhelpful to move into gender specific references before even identifying the approach and nature of victim assistance”.

The following is a brief account of various delegations’ positions on the Chair’s paper on this subject and on the issue of international cooperation and assistance in general. (This is not necessarily a comprehensive accounting of state positions.)

What should be included?

  • National capacity building assistance: Brazil, India, Iran, Japan, New Zealand, United States
  • Administrative and/or legislative assistance: Australia, Costa Rica, France, Israel, Japan, United Kingdom
  • Customs assistance: Brazil, CARICOM, Japan, New Zealand
  • Legal assistance: CARICOM, Costa Rica, European Union, France, India, Israel, New Zealand, United Kingdom
  • Financial assistance: CARICOM, Costa Rica, China, Iran, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom
  • Material/equipment/technology assistance: Argentina, Brazil, CARICOM, China, Iran, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom
  • Against technological assistance: Israel
  • Technical assistance: CARICOM, Costa Rica, France, Iran, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom
  • Industrial cooperation: United Kingdom
  • Against industrial cooperation: Israel, Switzerland, United States
  • Training assistance: Brazil, China, Iran
  • Exchange of information, experience, and best practices: Australia, Brazil, China, Costa Rica, European Union, Nigeria, Norway, Trinidad and Tobago
  • Assistance on stockpile management and record keeping: Nigeria
  • Gender perspective: Australia, Norway, Pacific Small Island Developing States, Tanzania, United Kingdom
  • Against including a gender perspective: Egypt
  • Victim assistance: Australia, Nigeria, Norway, Philippines, United Kingdom
  • Against including victim assistance: Algeria, Argentina, Costa Rica, European Union, France, India, Israel, Thailand, United States
  • Cautious of including victim assistance: Egypt, Japan, Indonesia

How should assistance be regulated?

  • Through a dedicated treaty secretariat: Brazil, European Union, New Zealand, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom, United States
  • Recipient states should decide where assistance is needed: Australia, China
  • Recipient and donor states will agree together: Switzerland
  • Assistance should only be voluntary: European Union
  • Assistance should be mandatory: Indonesia, Tanzania

Who should give assistance?

  • Only other state parties: Egypt
  • Other state parties and international, regional, and subregional organizations: Nigeria, Philippines, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom
  • NGOs: United Kingdom

Other issues on facilitating implementation through international cooperation and assistance

  • The Pacific Small Island Developing States, New Zealand, and Thailand emphasized the importance of establishing a reporting mechanism to assess the implementation of the treaty and the success of matching donors and recipients in terms of international cooperation and assistance.
  • CARICOM suggested the treaty should include a mechanism for the resolutions of disputes over the provision of international cooperation and assistance.
  • The European Union suggested the treaty could provide a “peer review mechanism” aimed at assessing the implementation of the treaty and identifying possible implementation needs.
  • Switzerland suggested establishing national focal points to liaise on matters related to the ATT.