CONFERENCE ON DISARMAMENT DISCUSSES ITS DRAFT ANNUAL REPORT TO THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY
Hears from Tatiana Valovaya, Secretary-General of the Conference
The Conference on Disarmament this morning started discussions on its draft annual report to the General Assembly, which was presented by Ambassador Yury Ambrazevich of Belarus, the President of the Conference. It heard from Tatiana Valovaya, the Secretary-General of the Conference and the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, as well as a number of other speakers presenting their views on the draft annual report.
Ambassador Ambrazevich said it was a great honour for Belarus to assume the presidency of the Conference. 2020 had not been a typical year for the Conference and the COVID-19 pandemic had had a major negative impact on the work of the Conference and on lives in general outside work. During the year, there had been a continued degradation of the key components of the international security system. The Conference had been unable to make substantive progress in its work. As the same time, the six plus two format of the Presidents of the Conference had seen a constructive approach, and the Conference had come very close to adopting a programme of work. If this approach continued, together with some pragmatism and flexibility on the part of the Member States of the Conference, they would be able to take that necessary step next year. The Presidency of Belarus saw the adoption of the annual report as its chief priority.
Tatiana Valovaya, Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament and Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, said she was pleased to join the Conference in the first plenary dedicated to the report of the Conference to the General Assembly. It was a time to look back at the 2020 session and reflect on the outlook for 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic had taken a heavy toll on all aspects of all lives and international diplomacy and intergovernmental bodies were no exception. However, the Conference had seen strong cooperation among the six Presidents, and between the last from 2018 and first from 2021, and this was a positive development. She was pleased to learn that the 2021 Presidents intended to continue on this path.
Ms. Valovaya said that this year had seen constructive discussions on a package containing a draft proposal for a programme of work, put forward by the six Presidents under the Presidencies of Algeria and then Argentina, which had held promise. Setting aside the fact that it did not ultimately elicit the agreement of all, she believed it had been a creative effort to find a way to resume work in a manner that reflected a broad spectrum of priorities and interests. She also recalled the ‘framing questions’ initiative, under the Presidency of Australia, the Australian non-paper suggesting a technical amendment to make the rules of procedure gender-neutral, and an event co-convened with the Austrian Presidency and civil society representatives. While the 2020 session of the Conference on Disarmament was not over yet, it had provided ample food for thought for 2021. The world did not know how the COVID-19 situation would evolve. Looking forward to 2021, she hoped that in person meetings would remain possible, while maintaining the possibility of meeting in hybrid formats. Member States should however be mindful that the financial limitations that the United Nations faced today were likely to persist.
Ambassador Ambrazevich, presenting the first draft of the annual report, referred to two logistical issues : first, the fact that the hybrid format of meetings needed additional finances because of the external platforms used, and therefore the Conference only had three plenary meetings, each three hours long, at its disposal. Second, they would be unable to switch between public and private plenaries under this hybrid format. The draft report was technical and highlighted factual data on the participation in the work of the session. He would convene consultations on it.
Speakers said that the Belarusian Presidency had prepared a sound report that objectively reflected the Conference’s activities and was fact-based, and the Conference should focus on finalizing the text swiftly. It needed a bit of technical fine tuning and delegations were urged to be as flexible as possible and to focus on consensus. It was an excellent basis for negotiations. One speaker said the factual report should accurately reflect the work of the Conference, and should include all documents that had been presented to it in an annex. Many speakers said they would forward suggestions to the President about the report, and it was recommended that it be adopted under a silent procedure.
Regret was expressed that the Conference had not been able to have a substantive report for three years. All were urged to demonstrate political will to adopt a programme of work next year on the four core issues. One speaker said that the destructive and malign approach of unilateralism had affected multilateralism, including in this body. Another speaker urged efforts to depoliticize the work of the Conference, saying it was not the right place to raise issues related to the internal affairs of countries that were irrelevant to the mandate of the Conference. Allowing this undermined the work of the Conference.
The current session of the Conference had been exceptionally affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and its work had been further complicated by the complicated international situation and excessive politicization. Speakers hoped that the Conference would be able to regain its professional multilateral approach. Referring to the expressed financial issues relating to hybrid meetings, speakers requested clarity on the budget and expected costs for both this year and next year, noting that nothing at the United Nations Headquarters in New York had been expressed about this issue.
Speakers said that the reference to how the COVID-19 pandemic had affected the work of the Conference should be further nuanced, as its meetings had been reduced and affected by the lack of human contact. The report should state that the use of hybrid meetings was effective but insufficient. The Conference had been unable to meet from 10 March until the end of June. Paragraph four implied that with the introduction of hybrid meetings, the Conference had been able to resume its work normally, and that was not the case. The paragraph trivialized the use of hybrid meetings and suggested that 2021 could continue the same way, but speakers said this would be counterproductive. Requests for more financial transparency should be added to paragraph four. One speaker noted that nothing was stopping the Conference from holding in-person meetings if the negotiations on the draft annual report were problematic.
The tried and trusted P6 plus 2 coordination was praised. This should carry on in 2021, and work should continue on the package on a proposed programme of work presented earlier this year. This system had been working well and speakers hoped that this format would continue in 2021 to promote the work of the Conference smoothly.
Support was expressed for various proposals made during 2020, including the Australian proposal to make the work of the Conference on Disarmament gender neutral. A suggestion was made that reference to the online event organized by the Austrian Presidency with civil society should be included in the report, even if it had been held on the side lines of the Conference. One speaker supported that paragraph 11 include reference to Cyprus requesting participation in the work of the Conference as an observer, and hoped that all requests for participation next year would be supported by all.
Speaking on the draft annual report were Russian Federation, Syria, United States, Republic of Korea, Spain, Indonesia, United Kingdom, Belgium, China, France, Iran, Pakistan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Algeria and Mexico.
Belgium said it would be taking over the baton at the Conference by leading consultations with the P6 to prepare the Conference for its 2021 session which started on 18 January. Belgium looked forward to presiding over the work of the Conference.
Kazakhstan recalled that the General Assembly had named 29 August as the International Day against Nuclear Tests, and said that this date was important for Kazakhstan. On 29 August 1949, a Soviet nuclear device had been detonated in the Semipalaolitisk test site in Kazakhstan. On the same day in 1991, the President of Kazakhstan had issued a decree to close down the largest nuclear test site in the world. Kazakhstan used the day to call on all States to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. It was also a valid occasion to remember the suffering of the victims of nuclear testing, which was passed down from one generation to another. Kazakhstan supported the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
At the end of the meeting, Ambassador Ambrazevic said he would continue consultations with all delegations and regional groups this week and next week, and invited all those interested to send detailed proposals as soon as possible. He said the next public plenary would be held on Tuesday, 8 September at 10 a.m. to discuss new types of weapons of mass destruction. The President said they could also use part of the plenary to work on the draft annual report.