On 28 October 2021, the Stimson Center and the ATT Monitor, a project of Control Arms, organized a side event entitled “Transparency in the Arms Trade: Examining the Role and Efforts of the Arms Trade Treaty” in the margins of the First Committee on Disarmament and International Security of the 76th United Nations General Assembly. The side event aimed to discuss the current status of transparency in the context of the international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and efforts to improve public understanding and awareness of the conventional arms trade.
Mr. Rainer Schmiedchen of the German Federal Foreign Office and Ambassador Robbert Gabriëlse, Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the Conference on Disarmament gave opening remarks, in which they highlighted the importance of reporting as a means of ensuring transparency and upholding the objectives of the Treaty. Ambassador Gabriëlse recalled the Netherlands’ longstanding support of the ATT Monitor, and noted that it is an integral part of the annual stock-taking of the Treaty’s implementation. He also expressed concern at the downward trend of reporting by States, as well as of reporting that is made publicly available – and stated that this trend presents a threat to the functioning of the Treaty.
Ms. Rachel Stohl of the Stimson Center noted that transparency within the ATT framework is vital to generate a complete picture of arms trade, in order to identify destabilizing arms transfers and work cooperatively to ensure that weapons are being securely managed, stored and transferred. She presented the new Stimson analysis on States’ 2020 reports, which includes findings on trends in reporting compliance, private reporting, and reporting behaviors. She stressed that compliance with annual reporting remains subpar, with on time compliance never exceeding 50% since the Treaty entered into force. Like the speaker before her, she pointed to the increasing trend towards private reporting, i.e. reports not made publicly available, which presents a growing challenge for monitoring the impact of ATT implementation and identifying trends, gaps, and needs for assistance. The speaker also noted positive developments, such as the adoption of updated reporting forms, the use of the Voluntary Trust Fund to assist States in reporting, and new resources by the Working Group on Transparency and Reporting and civil society.
Next, Ms. Carina Solmirano of the ATT Monitor presented the findings and trends regarding transparency and reporting, as captured in the 2021 ATT Monitor. Notably, the 2021 Monitor includes a chapter that evaluates five years of ATT reporting for the period 2015-2019. She informed that only 12 States Parties have been fully compliant with their reporting obligations every year a report was due. In addition, the percentage of reports that are meaningfully transparent, i.e. giving enough information to contribute to the transparency aims and objectives of the Treaty, fell from 46% in 2015 to 30% in 2019. She also informed of the recent launch of the summary video “Looking back to move forward: Evaluating five years of ATT annual reporting.”
Finally, Ms. Sarah Parker of the ATT Secretariat informed of some of the actions undertaken by the Secretariat to increase reporting rates. One such example is the revised reporting templates endorsed by the Seventh Conference of States Parties (CSP), which have been translated and are available online. These will be integrated into the online reporting platform in the coming months. She also informed that the Secretariat is implementing a European Union project that will focus on building the capacity of national points of contact, who also have a role in national reporting. The best practice of “reporting assistance clinics”, whereby States with more experience with reporting offer peer-to-peer assistance and experience sharing with States with less experience, is hoped to become a constant feature of each CSP.
The Q&A segment covered some of the areas in which more research can be conducted, such as in discrepancies between reporting, between countries and across years, and the role of aggregated data. The discussion also touched on the reasons for States not reporting or reporting privately. It was agreed that there is a need for further understanding of States’ motivations to keep reports private, and for targeted outreach to these countries to promote transparency within the ATT.