Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy, SOAS University of London dp27@soas.ac.uk

Humanitarian Disarmament Campaigns Forum- Thoughts from New York Part II

On a wind-snipped, sunny late October weekend in New York, a trusty band of energetic arms control and disarmament folks gathered opposite the UN, where we’ d spent the week in and out of the First Committee on Disarmament and its many side meetings.  I happened to be in New York, but was impressed at how many committed activists came together to discuss, debate and collaborate to develop a unified movement.

We were there to re-connect with the humanitarian disarmament community, coalesce around issues we all care about and plan how to continue effective collaboration. SCRAP was excited at the opportunity to engage with an experienced community, and contribute from a student research and advocacy perspective.

Largely thanks to Mary Wareham of Human Rights Watch, this was the second convening of the group. You could see the strength of relationships started the previous year, bolstered by the huge success of Oxfam and others in lobbying governments to adopt the Arms Trade Treaty in September. There was an encouraging cohort of new faces like ours, eager to get involved and collaborate on campaigns.

Rather than the traditional seminar-style conference, Article 36 and IKV Pax Christi had organized a more dynamic working group-structure, and the first day was crammed with fruitful discussion. Delegates explored the benefits and pitfalls of working in coalitions, looked at the most effective campaign methods, considered how to integrate fundraising with core communications strategies, and engage with media, diplomats and government. Reporting back to the wider group after breakout sessions helped to consolidate our findings and hear fresh perspectives.

Although I picked up countless tips and facts during the day, there were three stand-out lessons I found most useful to take back to SCRAP students and volunteers. Firstly, working in coalitions is desirable, but there has to be clear structures, goals and principles, otherwise it can lead to too many cooks (however valuable!) in the broth. Most crucially, members have to check their egos at the door, and remember that prioritizing their own agenda is not only unproductive but may impede the larger goal of the coalition. At the same time, if grouping around one member’s objective appears the most effective advocacy tactic to employ in communicating with government or diplomatic partners, other members must be willing to do so.

A great example of this is the CCM coalition, where the CMC, Norway, New Zealand, Ireland and a number of other countries and organizations formed a strong core group that got the Oslo Process off the ground, and ensured that Protocol VI of the CCW was eradicated. Human Rights Watch, Pax Christi Netherlands, MAC and Landmine Action spearheaded the campaign against cluster munitions, despite disparate views on how to tackle the issue. The CMC eventually pushed the angle that regardless of efforts by governments to improve the reliability of sub-munitions, CMs still violated IHL through their inherently indiscriminate effect.  Norway then kicked off the Oslo process after testing the their CMs and discovering that they did not conform to their own self-imposed dud-rates.  Several countries then joined the momentum and eventually managed to push through a treaty in less than two years. Speed light in disarmament negotiation time.

Secondly when discussing media engagement on the day, we highlighted the importance of translating technical or legal language for the broader public. This rang especially true for me as when advocating on SCRAP’s behalf to students or educators, I found most people were immediately put off by the heavy-duty jargon employed by many activists or academics. They often didn’t see why disarmament would be in the broader social interest, until we connected it to their work or human rights.

Finally, in fundraising and strategizing, it was clear that many people felt development was often isolated from other organizational activities, despite the fact that without it, organisations cannot implement core programmes, or effectively communicate its work to potential and existing partners. The group emphasized the need for a collective internal effort to incorporate development into long-term communications and growth strategies, rather than fundraising in stages and silos. This includes looking at new and more dynamic fundraising streams, such as crowdsourcing and strategic partnerships.

The atmosphere amongst the group was refreshingly candid, warm and humorous and aside from a lot of learning, we built relationships that are now leading to collaborative educational projects.

The forum presents a vital platform for collaboration and accountability, generating great ideas and partnerships. Delegates suggested the next forum take place somewhere in the global South. SCRAP is in favour. Preferably somewhere requiring a sun hat.

by Natasha Dyer

One Comment on “Humanitarian Disarmament Campaigns Forum- Thoughts from New York Part II

  1. Pingback: Bringing disarmament back | natashadyer's Blog