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What is the First Committee?

October 2, 2017

October is a distinctive time of year, as the seasons in New York change and the days grow cooler and shorter. For those working in disarmament and arms control, it is also a time synonymous with a flurry of meetings, events, and visiting colleagues. October is the time of year when the UN General Assembly’s First Committee on International Security and Disarmament convenes over a four-week period, bringing together issue-area specialists from governmental and non-governmental communities.

The agenda covers all aspects of the portfolio, from all weapons of mass destruction, through disarmament machinery, regional issues, conventional arms, the arms trade, and emerging problems like cyber security or autonomous weapons systems. In the course of making national statements of position on these issues, the First Committee is also the place where resolutions pertaining to arms control and disarmament are first put forward for adoption, and if successful, are then forwarded to the General Assembly for approval at a later stage.

This process has enabled the negotiation or advancement of important instruments, most recently the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, (the nuclear weapons ban treaty). The mandate to negotiate this treaty was tabled and adopted in the 2016 session of the General Assembly, which then took place in 2017.

Key themes for the 2017 First Committee

We anticipate that a significant amount of attention will be given to the growing threat from North Korea in its pursuit of nuclear weapons although within the UN this is usually discussed in the Security Council. There will also likely be a lot of discussion about the increased use of chemical weapons over the last year, as well as other banned weapons like cluster munitions and landmines. The use of explosive weapons in populated areas is a chronic and growing threat for many civilians living in urban areas that have become zones of conflict.

We are looking forward to hearing positive statements from the over 100 countries that support the nuclear weapons ban treaty! Over 50 states have already signed it since it opened for signature on 20 September 2017. It’s likely that more will continue to do so in October while in New York for the First Committee, or that others will use their national statements to provide an update on intentions to join.

Gender and disarmament receives an increasing amount of attention each year. In 2010, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) began to consider the specific implications of UNSCR 1325 for disarmament with the adoption of resolution 65/69 on “Women, disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation”. In 2016, the UNGA adopted a fifth resolution on this subject, which urges member states and others to promote equal opportunities for women in disarmament decision-making processes and to support and strengthen the effective participation of women in the field of disarmament. Many states will likely take note of the inclusion of gender-based violence as a risk assessment criterion in the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and the unprecedented language in the nuclear weapon ban treaty about women’s participation in disarmament and the disproportionate impact of nuclear weapons use and testing on women.

WILPF’s disarmament programme, Reaching Critical Will (RCW), is launching a new publication, The Humanitarian Impact of Drones, on 13 October during a side event.  The publication features contributions from a diverse group of experts providing insight on the humanitarian, psychological, human rights, and gender impact of armed drones, as well as ethical, moral, legal, perspectives and country and regional case studies.

We will also support and endorse a number of civil society statements to be delivered on nuclear weapons, gender, cyber security, armed drones, killer robots, and explosive weapons in populated areas. WILPF actively participates in the civil society campaigns and networks that advocate on many of these issues.

How to follow the debate?

Reaching Critical Will has been providing coverage and analysis of First Committee since 2002. This year we will again publish the weekly First Committee Monitor, a report that summarizes the debate by topic and authored by campaign leaders and experts. The RCW website will be a hub for posting governmental statements, draft resolutions, and voting. We have also prepared a First Committee Briefing Book, which provides an overview and current context of many key issues as well as inspiration and alternatives as delegates engage meetings this month.

  • Sign up for the First Committee Monitor.
  • Follow @RCW_ on Twitter. We will be live Tweeting from each session, as well as several side events!
  • Visit our First Committee webpage for statements, documents, and other key resources!

Participate in the debate! Share your thoughts!

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