Initial reactions to the Draft Report

February 16 2012, 7:01 AM by Ray Acheson

Wednesday afternoon’s discussion of the Draft Report of the Preparatory Committee for the United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (“Draft Report”) was largely amicable and constructive. In this meeting perhaps more than any other, UN member states demonstrated their willingness to work cooperatively towards consensus. The benefit of this great demonstration of consensus-building was that the Chair articulated eight points that would be the basis for a redraft, while leaving the substantive matter of a Secretariat’s document up to further consultation.

by Nathan Sears, Reaching Critical Will of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

First, it was generally accepted that Paragraph 17 should not only refer to the “first, second and third sessions” but additionally the fourth session of the PrepCom in reference to its substantive work. Second, it was clarified that Paragraph 17 and the first sentence of Paragraph 19 were not redundant, but that the words “held further discussions” could be added to Paragraph 19 to clear up the issue. Third, there was acceptance of the proposal made by the Islamic Republic of Iran to change the wording of Paragraph 18 from “civil society” to “non-governmental organizations”. Fourth, the suggestion of the Russian Federation to delete the second sentence of Paragraph 20, so that that Paragraph 20 would read that the Chair’s non-paper “has been agreed”. Fifth, it was generally accepted that Paragraphs 20 and 21 could be merged in order to avoid redundancy. Sixth, in Paragraph 20 where it says that the Chair’s non-paper “serves as a background document for the Conference,” it would instead read “as one background document”. Seventh, Paragraph 21 could omit the word “additional” from the current articulation “additional proposals”. Eighth, it seemed to be agreed that Section IV could be appropriately entitled, “Decisions and Recommendations of the Preparatory Committee” in place of “Recommendations of the Preparatory Committee”.

The greatest point of contention during this constructive afternoon session was the final sentence of Section III, which reads, “In addition, the Preparatory Committee requested the United Nations Secretariat to produce, as one of the background documents, a concise document reflecting the proposals and views of Member States expressed during the meetings of the Preparatory Committee and submit it well in advance of the Conference.” One concern was the seeming contradiction between the need to capture all of the alternative proposals and views of member states throughout the course of the PrepCom and the need to be concise. Some states, such as the delegations of Malaysia and Indonesia, suggested excising the word “concise” from the current formulation of the text in order to not lose the context of states’ positions because of the need to economize the length of a document. The removal of the word “concise” seemed to the Chair to be uncontested.

A number of member states, such as Algeria and Egypt, highlighted the extreme importance of this document to their governments. As the delegate of Egypt put it, it is very difficult for delegations to convince their capitals that their views have been considered if they cannot see them demonstrated in the background documentation. From this perspective, the proposed document will seek to fill the perceived gap between the Chair’s non-paper and the views of member states’ not reflected therein. Nevertheless, the delegate of Ireland rightly requested clarification on what would be the mandate guiding the proposed document. The Secretariat offered its assurance that its mandate to produce such a document would be undertaken with the utmost respect for impartiality in the summarizing, reformulating, and disregarding of the content to be included. The final words on the matter were given to the delegates of Algeria and Sweden. The delegate of Algeria noted that it was the Algerian delegation that had first proposed this document, and “very rigorously insisted” upon its inclusion in the background information. The delegate of Sweden then noted that his delegation had then reacted to Algeria’s proposal by requesting that such a document reflect the level of support for alternative proposal and views.

It seems clear that additional meetings of this PrepCom will give further consideration to the matter of the proposed document in Section III of the Draft Report. It has been argued that such a document should be prepared in order to ensure that the views of all states are reflected within the background documentation for the conference—the only way to equally ensure an objective and non-discriminatory conference that affords the greatest opportunity for consensus-building. Sweden’s proposal that such a document also indicate the level of support for alternative proposals and views seems equally just, objective, and non-discriminatory, and a good basis for the future work of the Conference.