By Jeff Abramson, Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor Program Manager
In recent decades, international agreements on conventional weapons trade and use have recognized the value of greater transparency, in part by creating reporting mechanisms and requirements. A short list of such agreements, whether legally binding or simply voluntary, include the UN Register on Conventional Arms, the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, the Mine Ban Treaty, the Program of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons, the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and the more recent Arms Trade Treaty. With the creation of these and other agreements, many government officials now complain of reporting fatigue, drawing into question the value and functioning of many transparency measures. What follows looks at these issues from the perspective of transparency reporting for the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions and has been adapted from a version originally posted by the Looking Ahead blog of the Forum on the Arms Trade.
April 30 marks the annual reporting deadline for the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions. These reports provide a wealth of government-certified information on weapons stockpiles and their destruction, contaminated land and its clearance, measures to protect and assist those endangered or already harmed by these indiscriminate weapons, as well as national laws and implementing measures. Such official reports make it much easier to track progress as well as hold governments accountable to treaty mandates, as well as broader efforts to promote conventional weapons control.
In times of conflict, they can also assist in understanding weapons flows and potential dangers. For example, the appearance of East German PPM-2 landmines in Yemen suggests that new supplies (of old landmines) are coming into the country because those types of mines had not been previously reported by Yemen as part of its stockpile or contamination. Similarly, Ukraine’s most recent transparency report indicates that hundreds of landmines have fallen out of their control, stockpiled in Crimea before the separation of the region.
These reports alone, however, often need to be augmented by additional information, typically gathered and analyzed by members of civil society. The Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor — with its weapons use research led by Human Rights Watch — as well as many other groups contribute to tracking supplies of landmines and cluster munitions and documenting their use. This is critical, for example, in places such as Syria and Yemen where these weapons have recently been used and are often supplied by countries not party to the treaties, and therefore outside the treaties’ reporting regimes. Importantly, this collective work has contributed to growing international efforts to cut off arms supplies to Saudi Arabia — in part because of Saudi-led coalition use of cluster munition in civilian areas.
With the upcoming reporting deadline, states have the opportunity, and obligation, to again contribute to improved transparency. Their collective record, however, is a bit disappointing. When last year’s Landmine Monitor and Cluster Munition Monitor were published, 94 States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty had failed to meet their annual reporting obligations and more than three dozen States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions had failed to meet their initial or annual reporting mandates. Since then, Mine Ban Treaty members have adopted a new guide to assist in reporting.
As is common at this point in the year, the number of reports available on the official treaty websites is low (Mine Ban Treaty, Convention on Cluster Munitions). Hopefully the upcoming intersessional meeting on the Mine Ban Treaty will spur countries to submit their reports before that meeting opens on May 19. For the first time, however, there will be no intersessional meeting for the Convention on Cluster Munitions. There is a danger that reporting will lag without that mid-year spur to action.
An additional opportunity, however, exists for states that have not yet joined the treaties to demonstrate commitment to transparency and treaty objectives by submitting voluntary reports, as a number of states have done in the past. The United States, in particular, has expressed a goal of eventually joining the Mine Ban Treaty. Given the size of the US stockpile, and lack of transparency in the progress of destroying it, submitting such a report would be an important step in demonstrating U.S. commitment to the treaty.