Saturday, February 18, 2012

Day 5 of the Fourth PrepCom

(c) Jesper Waldersten
So we have the rules of procedure for the Diplomatic Conference in July. After most of the final day was spent with key delegations in a huddle in the UN café, an agreement was finally reached late in the day. The Chair had sought to ratchet up the pressure by having the UN Secretariat test the electronic voting not once but twice in the morning. The Chair had alluded to the difficulties in reaching an agreement when he opened the morning session, referring to the informal consultations on the evening of Day Four as "sometimes like a psychotherapy session".

The Rules of Procedure do not allow for voting on any matters of substance, which may be the first time a UN diplomatic conference convened to negotiate a specific treaty has precluded this possibility. Even the negotiation of the Rome Statute of an International Criminal Court, which has potential consequences for States not party, allowed for voting. Rule 33 of the Rules of Procedure for the United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty states that:

"The Conference shall take its decisions, and consider the text of the Treaty, by consensus, in accordance with General Assembly Resolution 64/48."

That does not leave a lot of wiggle room if a small number of delegations decide to act as spoilers--sadly a possible scenario in July. At least the negotiations should be able to focus on the substance rather than be mired in procedural disputes. For any procedural decisions, a two-thirds majority can carrry the day, once the Conference has made every effort to ensure that those decisions are taken by consensus. The President of the Conference has the authority to determine whether an issue is substance or procedure, although his or her decision can be overturned by a simple majority of states present and voting.

The Diplomatic Conference will open in New York on 2 July 2012 and run for four weeks. Given the rules of procedure, agreement will be exceptionally hard to achieve, especially for states that wish to see a "strong and robust treaty" consonant with General Assembly Resolution 64/48. Let us hope that the process, and the result, will truly be, in the rather mangled clichĂ© of one leading diplomat, "Bottom-up, not up-bottom."


  1. This is very disappointing news. One can argue whether it is better to have a perfect treaty, but less ratifications - or a weaker treaty, but a large number of ratifications. In the case of the future ATT, it must unfortunately be expected that the argument of additional ratifications is merely a fig leaf. A weak treaty has the potential to do more harm than no treaty at all. Domestically, those states with relatively good legislation (at least on paper) will predictably come under pressure from lobbies and their MPs to "adjust" the domestic legislation in line with the ATT, i.e. lowering controls.

    States that really care about arms control will have to play an important role in July. Those negatively affected by the uncontrolled arms trade will count on you.

  2. Close the door for a voting, well we should not expect much then. It does not look very promising in Summer.

    Btw, good blog, I enjoy reading it. Cheers.

  3. Yes, very interesting. I look forward to more reports from the ATT Conference.