Disarmament Insight


Friday, 23 May 2008

Dublin: Treaty negotiations at the half-way point

Half-way through the two-week negotiations in Dublin on a treaty to ban cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians, where do things stand?

As noted in preceding posts, there are a couple of big issues - defining cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm, and military interoperability among them - that are claiming a lot of attention and are tough nuts to crack. Indeed, much of my week has been spent observing meetings working on these topics. But that shouldn't be taken to mean that considerable progress hasn't been made overall. Below I provide a brief article-by-article state of play on the draft Convention text. A copy of the draft Convention text and other official documents can be downloaded here.

Article 1 (General obligations and scope of application): this Article contains the treaty's core prohibitions. Over the course of the Oslo Process there have been proposals to amend this article, most for reasons bound up with the interoperability issue. By general agreement, draft Article 1 has been left alone, with the Swiss Friend of the President's (FoP) work focusing on developing potential additional provisions on the issue of interoperability in other Articles.

Article 2 (Definitions): this article has been a major focus of attention in informal consultations. New Zealand ambassador Don Mackay has focused work as FoP on the crucial definition of a cluster munition and - more specifically - the nature of any exemption from the definition of a cluster munition under tiret (c). This afternoon he presented a new proposal for everyone to think about for the weekend, basically an earlier proposal by Germany but without the weight criteria for cluster munitions and submunitions suggested earlier in the week.

Other definitions in Article 2 were handled by Irish Colonel Jim Burke, as "friend of the friend" of the President. Considerable progress was made, especially to ensure these are consistent with other international agreements such as protocols of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).

"Cluster munition victims", although in Article 2, were defined as part of work on victim assistance in Article 5.

Article 3 (storage and stockpile destruction): Ambassador Steffen Kongstad of Norway - FoP for this Article - reported that he was close to finalizing a new draft based on morning discussions in the CoW. Issues raised include consistency with the provisions of Article 4, and submunitions retained, ostensibly for the development of and training in cluster munitions and submunitions detection, clearance or destruction techniques, or for the development of cluster munition counter-measures. Agreement seems close, however, and it hoped that there can sufficient agreement emerging early next week for the President to transmit the text to the Plenary as a paper, to join the many other such Articles (see further below).

Article 4 (clearance and destruction): there was considerable progress here. There has been a change in the clearance deadline from 5 to 10 years.

Article 5 (victim assistance): there was a fantastic discussion in the CoW on this Article of paramount humanitarian importance this morning, following a number of consultations on this issue throughout the week. Great credit is due to Markus Reiterer of Austria as FoP on this Article: the President told the CoW today he would transmit language on this Article, which breaks new ground for helping cluster munition survivors and their families, as Presidency text.

Article 6 (international cooperation and assistance): the Irish are carrying out consultations on this, and a new non-paper was to be circulated today for discussion early next week. There is little to worry about here: it was difficult to make a lot of headway in finalizing a proposal on this Article until work on other areas of the draft Convention, such as victim assistance, clearance and destruction had made some progress, which they now have.

Article 7 (transparency measures): Irish-led consultations are underway and "going well", the President told the CoW today. This Article also depends on other articles to be sketched out in sufficient detail to move toward finalizing a proposal, especially Articles 3,4,5 and 6. Likewise, facilitation and clarification of compliance (Article 8) consultations continue, guided by FoP South Africa.

Articles 9 to 12 (national implementation measures, settlement of disputes, Meetings of States Parties, Review Conferences) have been forwarded as President's texts to the Plenary.

Articles 13 (amendments): President's texts, along with guidance from the UN's Office for Legal Affairs (OLA) have been forwarded to the Plenary, as well as one other proposal.

Articles 14, 15 and 16 (costs, signature and ratification, acceptance, approval or accession) have been forwarded as President's texts to the Plenary.

Article 17 (entry into force) has been discussed in the CoW, but the President has decided to come back to it later. In my view, this is sensible, as this a question usually settled late in multilateral negotiations, when delegations have a better sense of a treaty text overall and its implications for them.

Article 18 (provisional application): the President said no difficulties had been identified with this Article, but there is, of course, a German proposal for a transition period for cluster munition possessing states, and there are two other proposals for a separate article to the same effect. Today, the President asked Germany to consult with other delegations over the weekend with a view to narrowing differences next week. The latest Swiss FoP's proposal today circulated to the CoW still does not specify which Article interoperability text - if it is agreed - would reside in. At least 35 delegations said today that they oppose such a provision, with half a dozen or so speaking in favour.

Article 19 (reservations): this is being set aside for now, probably because it might prove to be a source of options on the interoperability issue, it seems to me.

Article 20 (duration and withdrawal) text has been transmitted by the President to the Plenary.

Likewise Article 21 (depositary) and Article 22 (authentic texts). Treaty depositary is to be the UN Secretary-General, like the Mine Ban Treaty and CCW.

There is also a proposal by one country for an additional Article on the relationship between the cluster munition convention and other treaties. It's unclear to me whether this will be taken up.

In addition to what's going inside the conference chambers, there is a lot of other stuff going on. The Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) have been extremely active, and I'd recommend Katie Harrison's very comprehensive daily updates on the proceedings of the Dublin Conference on the WILPF website if you wish for more detail. There is a cluster munition survivor's blog I've already mentioned, a CMC/ Handicap International 'Ban Bus' blog, a daily campaign newsletter and, of course, a huge amount of media coverage of the Conference out there.

John Borrie

Photo courtesy of Mary Wareham of Aotearoa New Zealand Cluster Munition Coalition. Survivors of landmines and cluster munitions at a photo call for media in O'Connell Street, Dublin on 22 May. From left to right: Ny Nhar (Cambodia), Soraj Ghulam Habib (Afghanistan), Tun Channereth (Cambodia), Youen Sam En (Cambodia), Branislav Kapetanovic (Serbia), Pham Quy Thi (Vietnam) and Berihu Mesele (Ethiopia).