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Looking Ahead to the Second Review Conference of the Convention on Cluster Munitions: 10 years of Article 7 Transparency Reporting

By Lode Dewaegheneire

Transparency has always been an integral and important part of disarmament treaties. The Convention on Cluster Munitions contains comprehensive obligations on reporting in its Article 7. Inspired by its sister convention, the anti-personnel Mine Ban Treaty, the Convention extended the scope of reporting by including, amongst others, reporting requirements on newly discovered stockpiles, victim assistance, national resources and international cooperation and assistance. Article 7 was intended to promote compliance with the Convention and as a confidence building measure. It can also serve as a platform for exchange of information.
 
With the second Review Conference ahead this year, it is good to assess what has been done to promote reporting, where we stand now, and what could be recommended looking ahead.
 
Where do we stand?
 
Since reporting is a legal obligation, initial efforts were aimed at encouraging States Parties to timely submit their initial report and at improving the submission rate of annual reports. Different subsequent coordinators for Article 7 reporting, civil society and the Implementation Support Unit, planned several actions and offered assistance to States Parties.
 
A reporting format was recommended for use at the First Meeting of States Parties (MSP) in 2010and a reporting guide was issued to help States Parties in fulfilling their Article 7 obligations. A special focus was put on those States Parties that still had to submit their initial report and States Parties with treaty obligations.
 
Initial reports are crucial for the Convention since they set the benchmark against which progress in implementation will be measured and for assessing the challenges some States Parties are facing. Although Article 7 reporting is a legal obligation for all States Parties, it is of particular interest for those who still are implementing other obligations. Without annual updates, no assessment of progress is possible.
 
Through the years, it became clear that, to encourage States Parties to submit their reports, incentives where needed. Hence there was a shift in the efforts to better promote the opportunities reporting can offer for affected States Parties. In particular, by reporting on their challenges and on the needs, States Parties could give a clearer picture to potential sponsor states for assisting them in implementing the Convention. That can work provided that the reports are detailed and of high quality. When looking at some initial reports, one could see that this was not always the case and that assistance through coaching could be beneficial to some States Parties.
 
As far as the figures are concerned, nine States Parties have an outstanding initial report due, some of them are overdue for several years, as of writing of this article. One of those States Parties has cluster munitions victims. Progress has been made in this field and we observe an increased degree of initial reports submitted over time.
 
The annual report rate for 2019 was 73 %, as of the Ninth MSP in September 2019,. And although we should aim at the full 100%, this is an improvement compared to previous years. We could consider that the different initiatives to increase the reporting rate, one of the objectives of the 2015 Dubrovnik Action Plan (DAP) adopted at the First Review Conference, have been successful.
 
The use of the reporting guide, also encouraged by the DAP, lead in some cases to higher quality information reported. This is encouraging, although there is still room for improvement. The role the Cluster Munition Monitor is playing in clarifying some reports and in encouraging States Parties to be as comprehensive as possible should be highlighted.
 
For the Second Review Conference
 
The Second Review Conference being held this November in Switzerland will be an opportunity to assess progress made in the field of reporting and to define the priorities for the actions for the coming five years. It is important that the next Action Plan provides clear guidance. As former coordinator for Article 7 reporting, my leitmotiv was: “Reporting is not only a legal obligation, but also an opportunity and a tool.” I would like to use this phrase to make some recommendations for the Review Conference.
 
Reporting is a legal obligation and all States Parties are bound to Article 7 of the Convention. There should be no need for discussion about that. However, if priorities have to be set, efforts should be made to have all Stats Parties submitting their initial reports, on time, and to ensure that affected countries report annually on progress.
 
Some States Parties without implementation obligations believe that they should not submit an annual report. Promoting the use of the existing simplified “cover sheet” report could encourage them to fulfill their legal obligation and would improve the reporting rate.
 
By reporting on the challenges they meet and the assistance needed for the implementation of the Convention, States Parties can use the Article 7 report as an opportunity. As mentioned earlier, high quality reports are needed for this to work. Further efforts should be made to assist those States Parties in drafting their report. This “coaching” can be done by potential donor states and could lead to a better understanding of the needs on one side and the available offer for assistance on the other side.
 
Finally, after a decade of Article 7 reporting, the Review Conference could take it to the next level: starting to use it as a tool. And once again, the Convention could be inspired by the Mine Ban Treaty. That treaty’s Oslo Action Plan, the result of the Fourth Review Conference held last year, innovated by defining indicators to assess the progress made in the implementation of the Mine Ban Treaty. Timely and comprehensive reporting is a key element in this approach and makes it a tool for defining the strategy of the Convention. This approach should also be considered when preparing the works of the Second Review Conference.
 
To conclude, reporting and its use have evolved and matured through the years in parallel with the Convention’s evolution. And although continuing efforts should be made to increase the reporting rate and to promote the opportunity of quality reporting, the Second Review Conference might be the right moment to start using the Article 7 reporting as a real management tool to reach the full implementation of the Convention.

Lode Dewaegheneire is a PhD researcher at the University of Liège (Belgium) and an independent expert. Previously as a diplomat from Belgium, he served terms as coordinator of the Article 7 committees for both the Convention on Cluster Munitions and the Mine Ban Treaty.This is the sixth blog post in a series looking at an array of issues in 2020 related to weapons use, the arms trade and security assistance, at times offering recommendations : https://www.forumarmstrade.org/blog/looking-ahead-to-the-second-review-conference-of-the-convention-on-cluster-munitions-10-years-of-article-7-transparency-reporting

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