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Rights and Responsibilities
By Rebecca Johnson

Sixth NPT Review Conference, Briefing No 10, May 10, 2000

The President of the NPT Sixth Review Conference, Ambassador Abdallah Baali, reiterated that the deadline for reports from the three Main Committees would be Friday, May 12. That deadline would leave a week to resolve the outstanding substantive issues or develop strategies aimed at obtaining the most constructive outcome possible in difficult political circumstances. While the subsidiary bodies and Main Committees attempt to pull together whatever agreements are possible at this stage, there has now also been time for Baali's draft decision on 'Improving the effectiveness of the strengthened review process for the NPT' to circulate more widely.

Review Process

In essence, Baali's paper reaffirmed the 1995 decision on Strengthening the Review Process', including three PrepCom sessions of 10 working days, and a possible fourth session, principally for procedural arrangements. Responding to arguments put forward by the United States, Japan and others last week, Baali proposes that the first two PrepCom sessions should focus on substantive issues, and that the third session should "elaborate consensus recommendations to the Review Conference". In addition, he proposes formalising the NGO informal plenary session that has developed during this review process since the first PrepCom.

In keeping with other views expressed during the debate on the review process last week, Mexico, with the support of a number of NAM countries, has responded to the President's paper by proposing four PrepCom sessions to address procedural and substantive issues. Mexico firmed up the reference to the convening of subsidiary bodies, removing the requirement that they be established only at review conferences. With regard to NGOs, Mexico has proposed that NGOs be invited to "participate as observers" in the deliberations of the PrepComs and Review Conference.

The core amendment proposed by Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and Norway concerned the remit of the PrepComs. The four proposed that each session of the PrepCom should have three components: a focus on specific substantive issues; developments affecting the operation and purpose of the Treaty; and a review part, encompassing the subject matter of the Treaty and 1995 decisions. Nigeria has also put in a working paper calling for the establishment of a "Non-Proliferation Treaty Management Board" to serve as an executive body for the Treaty and decisions adopted by NPT parties. Its proposed functions were envisaged as including: receiving and deliberating on complaints of non-compliance; acting as a clearing house for information and reports; preventing proliferation; serving as a consultative mechanism, etc.


Among the issues causing difficulties, universality is one of the toughest. Both Main Committee I and subsidiary body 2 have been grappling with different ways of addressing the nuclear capabilities, intentions, and regional problems associated with three of the four states still not party to the NPT: Israel, India and Pakistan. It is clear that the vast majority of NPT parties want to find a way to express their deep concerns about the nuclear doctrines and ambitions of India and Pakistan following the 1998 nuclear tests, but at the same time they want to identify constructive ways of reducing nuclear dangers in South Asia and they hope to encourage and enable India and Pakistan to take important steps such as signing and ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which would reinforce nuclear disarmament goals as well as non-proliferation. In New Delhi, the Minister of External Affairs made a 'Suo Motu' statement in Parliament declaring that "India is a nuclear weapon state" which, though not party to the NPT has been "consistent with the key provisions of the NPT that apply to nuclear weapon states". Claiming that "India's commitment to global disarmament and lasting non-proliferation remains undiluted", the Minister said that NPT-related statements "about India rolling back its nuclear programme are mere diversions to prevent focussed attention on the basic goals of the NPT".

The Middle East question, which has been a central part of the work of subsidiary body 2, also poses real dilemmas for non-proliferation and States Parties to the NPT. Israel is now the only State in the region which has not joined the NPT, and its nuclear weapon programme and capabilities have become both cause and tool for other states from that region. In 1995, the only way the depositary governments (Britain, Russia and the United States) could achieve the indefinite extension of the NPT without a vote was by sponsoring a resolution on the Middle East, which was likewise adopted without a vote. Exerting pressure on Israel and its main ally, the United States, by means of the NPT review process, has become the main objective at NPT meetings for most if not all the Arab states, although it must be recognised that positions and strategies within the Arab group differ as well, which can also create tensions for the Review Conference to accommodate. Some states from the region, such as Syria, seem to want only an opportunity to rant against Israel. Others support constructive approaches, such as Egypt's proposal for a follow-up committee, special representative-envoy, and/or the three depositary states (Russia, US and UK) to pursue discussions with Israel. During discussions in SB 2, this proposal was deemed worthy of further exploration by a number of delegations, including South Africa, Bahrain, Djibouti, Kuwait, Qatar, Malaysia, Libya, Syria, Viet Nam, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and France.

In relation to the Middle East, the United States raised the question of Iraq's non-compliance as an NPT State Party which pursued a nuclear weapons programme in violation of its obligations. The United States insisted that since the Resolution on the Middle East concerned all aspects of non-proliferation in the region, Israel's nuclear capabilities could not be addressed without also considering Iraq's non-compliance. A number of other countries also raised concerns about non-compliance by Iraq, including Canada, Italy, Germany, Britain, Netherlands, Austria, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, and Australia. By contrast, Russia and China questioned whether Iraq could still be said to be non-compliant, arguing that there was "no evidence" of present non-compliance, and that where nuclear weapons were concerned, the Iraqi file should be closed.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has now responded with a statement on its safeguards and verification activities in Iraq. This concluded that since December 1998 the IAEA was "not in a position to implement its Security Council-mandated activities in Iraq" and was therefore not able to provide assurances that Iraq was compliant with its obligations under the UN Security Council Resolutions. With respect to its NPT Article III obligations, the IAEA noted that although it carried out a physical inventory verification of nuclear material in January 2000 "this inspection is not... sufficient to provide assurance that Iraq is in full compliance with all its safeguards obligations..."

Subsidiary Body 2

The Chair of SB 2, Christopher Westdal of Canada, has issued a draft paper consisting of 15 paragraphs dealing mainly with the Middle East and the implementation of the 1995 resolution, and six paragraphs on South Asia and other regional issues. The May 9 draft reaffirms the importance of realising the 1995 decisions and resolution on the Middle East and endorses the aims and objectives of the Middle East. Among the points then covered, encompassing full scope safeguards, establishment of a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction, the CTBT and so on, the draft proposes the appointment of a 'Special Representative' of NPT parties to "conduct discussions with Israel on its early accession to the Treaty" and to report back to the 2005 Review Conference. It also quotes from the IAEA statement on Iraq and non-compliance.

With regard to South Asia, the draft refers to the 'deep international concern' caused by the nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan and called on both to accede to the NPT, put their nuclear material and facilities under comprehensive IAEA safeguards, sign and ratify the CTBT, and to participate in CD negotiations on a fissile material production ban. There is one paragraph expressing 'deep concern' about problems encountered by the IAEA in attempting to verify compliance with the NPT by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

Access and Abuse

Two very worrying incidents on Wednesday highlighted the responsibilities of NGOs, diplomatic representatives, and the Secretariat with regard to transparency and the role of civil society in disarmament deliberations. When disarmament and arms control are absent or go wrong, it is ordinary citizens and non-combatants who suffer most, so it should come as no surprise that civil society has NGOs which seek to understand international negotiations and to promote constructive agreements and outcomes. Just as we are trying to introduce concepts of human security into an arena which has for far too long been dominated by the paradigm of national and military security, so we have been trying little by little to bring more transparency and accountability to disarmament negotiations.

It was profoundly distressing therefore to hear that a man sporting the badges of an NGO representative, but not known to other NGOs in the room, threw a noisy tantrum during a session of Main Committee II on Wednesday, and then attempted to stage a one-man demonstration. The Chair of MC.II, Adam Kobieracki, is to be commended for the calm and good humoured way in which he dealt with a difficult situation. Even more, however, we want to express our gratitude to the Chair, diplomats and officials in the meeting that they did not use the selfish and abusive behaviour of an individual as an excuse to evict all the serious NGOs observing the session.

When NGO participation is only a privilege instead of a right, it can be rescinded on a pretext and taken away. Years of hard work building up respect and access can be destroyed in a moment. Not due to the intemperate actions of someone who is barely related to us by any known work or interest, but only because he too carries the generic label 'NGO'. Most people, like Ambassador Kobieracki, can distinguish between the sad and the genuine. Rather, our work can be swept aside by those officials or governments who want to keep us out for other reasons. Or by over-zealous security guards and officials displaying their patch of power, regardless of how weak the grounds. On this occasion, we were lucky that did not happen.

In the second incident, a handful of NGOs were prevented from continuing to observe a plenary session of MC.I which reconvened in the evening after an hour's break. The reason? Because the UN's daily journal described the meeting in that room as informal, with 'closed' in brackets. No matter that the meeting was a continuation of the paragraph by paragraph consideration of the Chair's working paper that had begun in open session earlier that day, which could not have been known by the producers of the journal. No matter that the Chair or a member of his delegation had just before indicated to one of the NGOs that the session, though designated informal, would continue to be open. No matter that the rules of procedure for the NPT Review Conference (rule 43) state that "the plenary meetings of the Conference and the meetings of the Main Committees shall be held in public unless the body concerned decides otherwise" -- and in this case no body (but a single official) had decided otherwise, thereby abusing his role and authority. Even worse, the NGOs' request for the Chair to be informed and for him to consult and decide was not respected or heeded.

At the heart of this humiliating episode is a matter of principle. A member of staff could ignore the logic of the situation and evict working NGOs because, despite all the rhetoric about the importance of civil society, accountability and even transparency in arms control and international relations, NGOs have few rights; only the fragile, contingent, permission to observe -- a concession, providing no-one misbehaves. This is the reality in which civil society has to do its job, and it is time all parts of the United Nations stopped colluding.

During the NPT Rebecca Johnson and Jenni Rissanen can be contacted at mobile phone 917 302 2822 and fax 212 935 7690.

2000 The Acronym Institute.

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