A week at the Arms Trade Treaty Conference with CISD

Conference ATT

The Conference of State Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) reconvened in Geneva this August, seeing a number of delegations meet to discuss ongoing progress and challenges towards full implementation of the treaty.

Over 150 government delegations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and civil society and interest group representatives were all present at the Geneva International Conference Centre.

The SCRAP Weapons project sought to publicise the SCRAP treaty, and work on building relationships with some of those present in order to strengthen our recognition, resources, and networks – especially ahead of our hopes to further circulate the treaty to the First Committee at the United Nations General Assembly.

We arrived in Geneva, after a slightly chaotic attempt at navigating the airport to find our way to the free train into Cornavin. Our first day was the briefing for the Control Arms Coalition, which is made up of a number of NGOs from around the world. We had an insightful Q&A with the President of the Conference, Jānis Karklins, from the Latvian delegation, discussing his hopes and aims for the week. Having asked about what we should hope to achieve, and what may be possible, we were reassuringly told that UN conferences and meetings are always either ‘successful’, or ‘very successful’.

That first session was optimistic and informative, and formed part of a long day of meet-and-greets and logistical preparations that set us up for the next five days. We then set out to exploring the beautiful city of Geneva.

The next five days were fast-paced, busy, and exciting. The conference room was filled with incredible people from all over; diplomats seeking to establish and maintain their agendas on the stage, leaders of organisations spearheading peace movements and campaigns, and regional disarmament practitioners were all represented at the conference.

We came to meet a surprisingly broad spectrum of individuals – including representatives from the National Rifle Association (NRA), members of Lebanon’s Women’s Peace Organisation, and a delegation of Palestinian diplomats. A highlight was a Control Arms trip to a karaoke bar, during which we sang some classic tunes into the early hours of the morning; sharing the recovery struggle the next morning during the plenary.

This year’s theme, Gender and Gender-Based Violence (GBV), was – in my opinion – a particularly fitting one. Having written my dissertation on this issue, I was keen to observe the discussions this theme would instigate. I was therefore interested by the number of conversations debating whether it was fitting or appropriate for this topic to be the conference’s central theme – and whether any meaningful progress and work could be achieved as a result.

The conference highlighted the importance of acknowledging the experiences of women in war, bringing to attention the disproportionately high impact that war and armed conflict has on women. Refreshingly, several speakers and delegates also spoke about the need to pay attention to the broader involvement of women in war; whether this be as leaders of peace movements, as fighters, or as weapon traffickers – not simply as passive actors that serve as victims of war.

The conference was a unique opportunity to see what I have been taught as part of my undergraduate degree – and what I will be learning about further, as part of the International Studies & Diplomacy MA at CISD – in practice. The realities of this world all became apparent over the week – backdoor discussions, last-minute interventions and statements during the conference plenaries, negotiations and exchanges of business cards in hopes of a fruitful relationship with interests from both sides.

In between mingling over countless baguettes, we attended a number of thought-provoking side events. These were panel discussions debating a number of crucial issues in regards to the ATT – the importance of acknowledging GBV, whether the arms trade could be practiced ethically and closely monitored, how to deal with diversion (the illicit flow of arms away from legislated sales), and the question of treaty universalisation. These were engaging opportunities to learn from those directly involved, to learn about their opinions, strategies, and hopes for the future of the ATT.

On Friday, SCRAP hosted its own panel event, ‘Situating the ATT in the Global Arms Control Context’. Our speakers – Marc Finaud, Head of Arms Proliferation, GCSP;, Martin Butcher, Policy Advisor, Arms Campaign, Oxfam; Nikhil Acharya, Senior Regional Technical Advisor, Arms / Ammunition Control, BICC / RECSA; and Dr Olamide Samuel, Teaching Fellow, CISD, SOAS / Project Coordinator, SCRAP Weapons – and our chair, former CISD student Lydia Matias, engaged in a particularly compelling conversation surrounding the realities of the ATT, effective implementations, and its implications for the arms trade and global politics and state relations. It was a pleasure to see the room filled with attendees, with a number of insightful questions and topics for debate.

The honour of giving the closing statement as part of the event was mine, and though nerve-wracking, it was worthwhile and invaluable.

Conference closing statement

It was an honour to be part of a brilliant week. Working with a team of individuals that showed what an exciting future may lie ahead as part of CISD and beyond, and the opportunity to meet and build relationships with incredible people from all over the world whilst publicising a worthwhile cause as part of SCRAP, was an invaluable and unforgettable experience.

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