Key Developments in Humanitarian Disarmament: Digital Diplomacy in Practice

Lan Mei, Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative

Over the past month, the Arms Trade Treaty became the first of the humanitarian disarmament treaties to hold its Conference of States Parties in a time of social distancing. Lessons learned from this experience will likely influence the conduct of other meetings of states parties scheduled for later this year. Digital convenings on cluster munitions and explosive weapons also took place, while humanitarian disarmament experts had new engagements with a human rights treaty body and youth activists.

In case you missed it:

  • On August 10, Human Rights Watch released a new report, Stopping Killer Robots: Country Positions on Banning Fully Autonomous Weapons and Retaining Human Control. The report tracks the positions 97 countries have taken on the issue of fully autonomous weapons since UN-level deliberations on the topic began in 2013. It shows a convergence of opinion on the need for some level of meaningful human control over the use of force.
  • The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots launched a Youth Network on August 12 as a platform for young leaders to actively participate in the campaign. Interested youth can find out more on this webpage, or access this toolkit with activities they can undertake.
  • On August 17, the Mine Ban Treaty’s Committee on Victim Assistance addressed the 23rd session of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Mine Ban Treaty representative highlighted linkages in the work of the two committees and encouraged continued collaboration to promote the rights of mine survivors.
2020 ATT Monitor Report, with a photo of two cupped hands holding bullets
ATT Monitor Report 2020 Cover.
Credit: Control Arms
  • The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) held its Sixth Conference of States Parties by written procedure, with no in-person or virtual meetings, from August 17-21. Decisions were made by silent procedure, in which decisions were deemed accepted unless any state party objected. The conference adopted two substantive decisions: one to affirm the mandate for the working group on Transparency and Reporting, and another to establish a Diversion Information Exchange Forum (DIEF). Civil society raised concerns that the conference procedures and the establishment of the DIEF undermined transparency and the participation of civil society. Despite a few statements referencing actual arms transfers, the failure of the conference to discuss those transfers and potential ATT violations in depth generated additional concerns from civil society about the credibility and effectiveness of the treaty. A more detailed report about the conference can be found in Reaching Critical Will’s ATT Monitor.
  • On August 19, Control Arms launched the ATT Monitor 2020 Report at a side event of the ATT Conference of States Parties. The report reviews the status of universalization and implementation of the treaty, examines the importance of transparency and information-sharing in addressing arms diversion, and reviews the annual reports states are required to submit under the treaty.
  • Support for the Treaty on the Prohibition on Nuclear Weapons continues to grow, with Mozambique and Malta signing the treaty on August 18 and 25, respectively.
  • On August 26, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) held a virtual plenary to commemorate the annual International Day against Nuclear Tests. UNGA President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande and UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu called for the ratification of the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty and commented on the importance of achieving a nuclear-free world.
  • States parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions held their Second Preparatory Meeting for the Second Review Conference on September 4. Each delegation could send one representative to the UN venue in person; others watched online. Discussions of the draft Lausanne Action Plan and draft elements for the Lausanne Declaration suggest that the main point of contention at the November conference will be whether states parties can agree to condemn all use of cluster munitions by any party under any circumstance.
  • On September 7, Ireland hosted a high-level webinar on “Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas (EWIPA): Issues, Policy and Practices.” Speakers highlighted the problems of the use of EWIPA and examined how to address them through political commitments. Organizers sought to preserve the momentum for negotiations of a political declaration on EWIPA, which had been postponed due to the pandemic. Although Ireland has not yet determined the best option for resuming negotiations, the country’s ambassador clearly stated that all states, United Nations entities, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and civil society would have the opportunity to take part.

States parties to the Convention on Conventional Weapons are scheduled to hold experts meetings in late September on lethal autonomous weapons systems, explosive remnants of war, and landmines.

The website continues to post resources on humanitarian disarmament and COVID-19 on this page.

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