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GA/DIS/3672
15 October 2021
Seventy-sixth Session, Virtual Meeting (AM)

Possessor States Must Do Better on Nuclear‑Weapon‑Free Zones, Cyberspace, Small Arms, Delegates Tell First Committee

Despite the regional cooperation evident in various areas of the disarmament agenda — including nuclear‑weapon‑free zones, cyberspace and small arms and light weapons — States in possession of the largest arsenals must urgently do better, delegates told the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) today, during its second virtual meeting.

Flávio Roberto Bonzanini, Secretary‑General of the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (OPANAL), said the relevance of the international norm pioneered by the 1967 Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean — Treaty of Tlatelolco — is greater than ever before.  Expressing concern about the pandemic‑related delay in convening the conference on establishing a nuclear‑weapon‑free zone in Central Asia — to have been held in 2020 — he called urgently on all States parties to the relevant treaties to agree on a date for that meeting.

Providing highlights of OPANAL’s recent General Conference, he cited the consensus adoption of three landmark resolutions relating to:  a memorandum of understanding with the African Commission on Nuclear Energy; an internship programme; and the first‑ever effort to incorporate the relationship among gender, non‑proliferation and disarmament into discussions.  Going forward, the Organization will present two draft resolutions — on the Treaty of Tlatelolco, and on mandating the establishment of a group of governmental experts and the preparation of a comprehensive study of nuclear‑weapon‑free zones in all their aspects.

Charles Okoh, Head of the First United Nations Division in the International Organisations Department of Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, spoke on behalf of the African Group, saying the region’s States have demonstrated their commitment to global peace and security through the African Nuclear‑Weapon‑Free Zone Treaty, known as the Treaty of Pelindaba.  He went on to express deep concern about the slowness of the nuclear‑weapon States to fulfil their disarmament commitments, encouraging them to join the landmark Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.  All parties must work to preserve the credibility of the Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons at its 2022 Review Conference, he said, emphasizing the importance of universal adherence to that instrument and fulfilment of article 6 obligations by the nuclear‑weapon States.  He also urged them to join the Comprehensive Nuclear‑Test‑Ban Treaty and called upon the Conference on Disarmament to resume its substantive work at a time of global uncertainties and geostrategic tensions.

The illicit arms trade remains another grave concern, in light of their wide range of humanitarian and socioeconomic consequences, particularly in Africa, he said.  Urging all countries to refrain from and prohibit the transfer of weapons to any recipient without the authorization of the competent national authorities of the importing nations, he cited especially non‑State actors.  The Group’s members will continue to pursue regional efforts, including the African Union’s Silencing the Guns initiative, he affirmed, emphasizing the importance of the Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons.  He went on to underline that all States parties to the Arms Trade Treaty must implement it in a balanced, objective manner that protects the interests of all nations and not just the major international producing and exporting States.  He welcomed the establishment of the African Space Agency, to be hosted by Egypt.

The Chair then opened the floor for discussion.

Brazil’s representative asked about OPANAL’s memorandum of understanding with the African Commission on Nuclear Energy.

Mr. Bonzanini said the memorandum indicates the need for expanded consultation between the two regional zones with a view to more documentation and reciprocal representation.  In the big picture, the zones aim to prevent and control horizontal proliferation and the emergence of regional arms races, making cooperation essential, he emphasized.  They also seek to remove the danger of nuclear war and to provide a framework for international cooperation on the complex and controversial field of peaceful use of nuclear energy.

The Group seeks to set an example for the feasibility of protecting geographical areas from risk of nuclear deployment, he said.  There must be more cooperation between Latin America and Africa — however, nuclear‑weapon‑free zones are not an end in themselves, but a means towards disarmament down the road.  Responding to Brazil’s delegate, he called for more cooperation agreements.  He cited the 2003 agreement with the Pacific Islands Forum, contact with the nuclear‑weapon‑free zone in Central Asia and the intention to contact representatives in Southeast Asia.  Noting that 115 States are represented — a majority of nations — he said the nuclear‑weapon States and umbrella States are being marginalized and will soon be the exception.

Mexico’s representative asked about the resolution on gender, non‑proliferation and disarmament, and about the future of outer space, which is fundamental to development.

Mr. Bonzanini said the OPANAL Secretariat submitted a resolution on the valuable contribution of women and their critical role in promoting disarmament, non‑proliferation and arms control.  As men and women approach non‑proliferation and disarmament issues differently, the involvement of all people is essential to peace and security, he said, noting OPANAL formalized the obligation by consensus of its 33 Member States to recognize the contribution of women.  Equal, full and effective participation is essential for promoting peace and security, he said.

Mr. Okoh, responding to Brazil’s delegate, agreed that nuclear‑weapon‑free zones are not an end in themselves, but are landmark instruments of synergy.  Addressing the representative of Mexico, he noted the African Space Agency, to be hosted by Egypt, will aim to negotiate statutes, harness the benefits of space technology to address African socioeconomic issues and promote the African space agenda and partnerships.  It is a work in progress, he stated.

The representative of Egypt, referencing the goal of a nuclear‑weapon‑free zone in the Middle East, asked Mr. Bonzanini about the main lessons learned in forming one.

Mr. Bonzanini said OPANAL Member States have been closely following the Middle East efforts, citing the important contribution it can make to peace and security in the region.  Even though it is a controversial issue, he said they are available to contribute to discussions.  One of most important lessons is for people to talk, he said.

Martin Kimani (Kenya), Chair of the seventh Biennial Meeting of States to Consider the Implementation of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, updated the First Committee on activities and results.  Held in July, the seventh Biennial Meeting resulted in an outcome document that outlines actions related to, among other things, exports and re‑exports of small arms and light weapons, including such newer themes of the instrument as risk assessments and post‑shipment verifications.  For the first time, States also agreed to ensure that international humanitarian law and international human rights law are taken into consideration in national small arms and light weapons transfer decisions.  In addition, the outcome document remarkably contains provisions on ammunition, an issue that often triggers divergent views, and refers to ongoing discussions in the related Group of Governmental Experts.

At the Biennial Meeting, States also reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening the links among the Programme of Action on Small Arms, International Tracing Instrument and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and committed themselves to address the illicit arms trade through national development strategies and frameworks, where they exist.  Amid continued strides on the gender issue, the outcome document’s preambular section contained, for the first time, a reference to women’s equal, full and effective participation and the need for gender mainstreaming.  Among other activities, States agreed that the eighth Biennial Meeting of States will consider such issues as the means of enhancing modalities and procedures for international cooperation and assistance.  “If we wish to make tangible progress in combating the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, we, as States and regions, must take the necessary steps and implement the commitments we have made,” he said, adding that the seventh Biennial Meeting outcome provides a blueprint for moving forward.

Guilherme De Aguiar Patriota (Brazil), chair of the Group of Governmental Experts on advancing responsible State behaviour in cyberspace in the context of international security, noted that the 2019‑2021 session — the sixth group of experts on cyberspace — “moved the goalposts” beyond previous recommendations on critical issues.  Working in parallel with the Open‑Ended Working Group, he noted, it addressed threats in the sphere of information security and how international law applies to States’ use of information technology.  With 26 States participating in four sessions, the Group considered how cyberspace can be used in United Nations multilateral processes, with its outcome document one of the first concluded by virtual means.  He noted it engaged in regional consultations with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the European Union, the Organization of American States, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the African Union.  The Group sought to build upon the outcome of two decades of preceding discussions, yielding a normative framework on the subject, and “the outcome exceeded expectations”, he said.  The report underlines linkages between substantive elements of the group’s mandate, incorporating views from outside, including regional consultations.  He emphasized that no issue was sidestepped, however divisive.

Jürg Lauber (Switzerland), Chair of the Open‑Ended Working Group on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security, noted it concluded the first draft of its report, and the third session was productive in addressing key challenges in cybersecurity.  Consisting of two parts, the report mentions important current threats including attacks on health‑care facilities, how to protect them and the potential humanitarian consequences of cyberattacks.  It also addressed the need for regular institutional dialogue.  He noted the second part addressed all six issues and norms on responsible State behaviour in cyberspace.  This marked the first dedicated regular institutional dialogue on cybersecurity under the auspices of the United Nations that was open to all Member States — evidence that multilateralism truly works, and truly matters, he said.  The success of both United Nations processes on information and communications technology is an encouraging sign that consensus is possible, even under difficult circumstances, he stated, expressing hope that States continue to cooperate on a free, open and peaceful cyberspace.

In the ensuing discussion, the representative of the Netherlands asked for advice from Singapore, as the incoming Chair of the Group of Governmental Experts, and other experts on what worked and efforts to be made going forward.  The representative of the Russian Federation noted that her delegation had suggested that the First Committee approve a single draft resolution on the outcomes of the Group of Governmental Experts and the Open‑Ended Working Group, which has been co‑sponsored by the United States and dozens of States.  In this regard, she expressed hope that the Committee will approve this draft by consensus.  The representative of Brazil agreed.  Likewise, the representative of Singapore welcomed the Russian Federation’s and United States’ efforts to come together to support a common draft resolution.

Mr. Patriota, saying that it was “music to my ears” to listen to Member States expressing hope in achieving agreement on this issue, stressed that a mix of good will, dialogue and openness must continue, with the United Nations adapting to the “reality of virtuality” and its emerging threats.  Recommending further open, frank exchanges, even when divergent views exist, he said both reports are complementary and extremely useful for future work as a solid base for moving forward.

Mr. Lauber, echoing this sentiment, said this open, constructive process must continue, and the resulting material must be used to advance progress in this field along the path of inclusiveness, including civil society and the private sector.

The representative of Ecuador also spoke.

A presentation by Marcus Bleinroth (Germany), Chair of the Group of Governmental Experts on problems arising from the accumulation of conventional ammunition stockpiles in surplus, was moved to the last virtual meeting scheduled on Thursday, 21 October.

The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Monday, 18 October, to continue its thematic debate.

For information media. Not an official record.