Disarmament Insight


Friday, 22 February 2008

From Welly to Dublin: cluster munition conference a success

This week, 122 states met as part of the Oslo Process in Wellington, New Zealand, for a conference on addressing the humanitarian impacts of cluster munitions. The meeting, which concluded today, was widely hailed as a success. 72 countries present spoke up to explicitly endorse the Wellington Conference Declaration, with other states certain to follow in the weeks and months before Dublin.

Wellington represents a crucial stage in the Oslo Process. Over the last year a 'core group' of countries (Austria, the Holy See, Mexico, Ireland New Zealand, Norway and Peru) has managed the process of developing a discussion text, which has become a "Draft Cluster Munitions Convention". That document was the focus of this week's talks. The hope was that, at the end of the meeting, states would associate themselves with the "Wellington Declaration", which a government must do if it wants to be admitted to formal negotiations in Ireland in the second half of May. Attached to the Declaration would be the draft Convention - perhaps revised to reflect Wellington discussions. And the Dublin Conference's draft rules of procedure would also be presented.

Yesterday, I suggested that the Wellington text would not be revised, contrary to initial expectations among many here, and that various proposals put forward (often forcefully) would instead be compiled into a compendium text. And so it turned out to be today. The final Declaration text stated that governments:

"also welcome the important work done by participants engaged in the cluster munitions on the text of a draft Cluster Munitions Convention, dated 21 January 2008, which contains the essential elements identified above and decide to forward it as the basic proposal for consideration at the Dublin Diplomatic Conference, together with other relevant proposals including those contained in the compendium attached to this Declaration and those which may be put forward there".
Some, including myself, were slightly surprised that all countries, especially the so-called like-mindeds (a loose grouping including Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK) went along with this option. In our interpretation, if it went to a vote in Dublin (a matter of last resort), a two-thirds majority would be needed to change the draft Convention. Such a scenario, while not necessarily likely as all involved will do their best to avoid a voting situation, is certainly not impossible. In other words, to my way of thinking at least, the draft Convention is behind the firewall I described yesterday, while the compendium is not.

That's why today's statements by many states were informative. While the great majority of the 72 states who spoke up endorsed the Wellington Declaration unreservedly, 15 (Canada, UK, Denmark, Switzerland, Germany, France, Netherlands, Australia, Finland, Lithuania, Italy, Japan, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic in speaking order) introduced a caveat. These 15 spoke of their disappointment at a perceived lack of transparency in this week's maneuvering, and said they associated themselves with the Wellington Declaration on the understanding that the draft Convention text and the compendium would have equal standing in Dublin.

This is not my understanding of the draft Dublin rules of procedure, which make a distinction between the "basic proposal" (rule 31) - stated as the draft Convention - and "other proposals" (rule 32). I'm not a lawyer, but it implies to me a difference in status.

We'll see how this is clarified in Dublin, probably as part of the agreement process on the rules of procedure themselves. Meanwhile, there was unprecedentedly trenchant criticism from Canada of NGO Cluster Munition Coalition pressure on certain "like-minded" governments on the margins of the Conference through demonstrations and negative media coverage. This is significant because Canada is known as very civil society friendly - and of course it worked closely with NGOs at the forefront of the anti-personnel mine ban process more than a decade ago and ever since. Canada said that vilifying accusations made about it and others (like Australia) were "unfounded and unfair", such as the charge it was covering for Oslo non-participants such as the U.S., which it denied. It is possible some of the like-mindeds might seek to do what they can to limit NGO involvement in Dublin.

None of this can obscure what is an achievement all involved in the Oslo Process can be satisfied with. Despite some sledging of the core-group by the so-called like-mindeds, and of the like-mindeds by some developing countries who don't want the types of exemptions to a ban on cluster munitions they're advocating, the Conference outcome has surpassed expectations. All of the like-mindeds, who had been rumbling about walking out earlier in the week associated themselves with the Declaration, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Sweden. Even Denmark (current Chair of the CCW process in Geneva) and Finland joined in. As the ICRC commented toward the end of the final session, look how far we've come.

John Borrie

Photo by author. From left to right are Charlotte Darlow of the New Zealand delegation with Ambassador Don Mackay, Chair of the Wellington Conference, and Irish Ambassador Daithi O'Ceallaigh, Chair-Designate of the upcoming Dublin Conference.

Most documents I mentioned have already appeared on the New Zealand Government's Wellington Conference website. The Irish Government's Dublin Conference website should be operational from 1 March, at: <www.clustermunitionsdublin.ie>.