Big on Process, Short on Substance
September 22, 2017

Stop arms transfers that fuel atrocities: Reduce human suffering. That was the urgent call to governments from Control Arms members from Africa, Americas, Asia, Caribbean, Europe, Middle East and the Pacific as they gathered in Geneva last week for the third annual Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (CSP 2017).

With humanitarian crises and high levels of armed violence raging from Yemen, to South Sudan, to the Philippines and Venezuela, fuelled by arms transfers, it was a critical opportunity for States Parties to stop shuffling paper, and start saving lives. Radhya Al-Mutawakel of Yemeni member Mwatana Organisation for Human Rights, spoke at the High Level Opening Panel, testifying to the terrible humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and appealing to governments present to use the opportunity ahead to stop the flow of weapons that are fueling the crisis.

During the week, although a few governments did talk about problematic arms transfers, only Costa Rica directly named Yemen as a concern, and the struggle to get ATT States Parties to end the ‘business as usual’ attitude continues.

CSP 2017 also took place at the same time as the world’s largest arms fair in London. The bitter irony of this clash seemed to largely bypass assorted diplomats, but spoke volumes of the urgent need for this meeting to burst out of the bureaucratic bubble and directly address the real-world consequences of the arms trade.

A series of side events brought more substance-based discussions, including how arms transfers fuel atrocities in the MENA region, the link between arms sales and gender-based violence, and work around the world to support effective treaty implementation.

There was some progress in the area of transparency. Not all the governments who are meant to submit their yearly reports on their transfer activity in 2016 have done so yet, and several who did have kept them secret. At CSP 2017, many governments called for timely and public reporting by all States Parties, and one of the countries that had previously submitted a private report for 2016, Senegal, asked to have their report made public.

This was also the first ATT conference to include a specific focus on how the Treaty might link to the wider world. In a special debate on the linkages between the ATT and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, governments delved deeper into the ways in which armed violence and unrestrained arms supplies can destroy development efforts. This is an issue that will continue to be explored in the coming year, but the fact that governments identified broad and deep links between the two instruments is encouraging, as an inability or unwillingness to adequately implement either could doom both to failure.

Ultimately, hopes of those who thought this meeting might be a turning point in the ambition and impact of ATT States Parties were frustrated. The important moments of substance that did emerge during CSP 2017 struggled for attention as diplomats again looked more towards process.

Click here to read Control Arms’ summary of CSP 2017.