Disarmament Commission Postpones 2020 Organizational Session for Second Time in 2 Weeks, amid Deepening Impasse over Non-Issuance of Visas
United States Accuses Moscow of ‘Hostage’ Action, as Russian Federation Says Head of Its Delegation Has Been Denied Entry
The Disarmament Commission deferred the start of its 2020 organizational session today, for the second time in as many weeks, reflecting a deepening impasse over the host country’s non-issuance of visas to some delegates.
Thomas Markram, Director and Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, took the decision in his capacity as interim Chair, suspending the meeting until 6 April at the latest, when the 193-member Commission is mandated to begin its substantive work. It came on the heels of a similar decision on 18 February (see Press Release DC/3826), when members postponed the organizational session for 10 days to enable the Committee on Relations with the Host Country to address concerns about the non-issuance of visas by the United States.
The Commission conducted no substantive work in 2019 after similar concerns were raised during that session’s organizational meeting (see Press Release DC/3800).
At the outset, the Russian Federation’s representative said his delegation is still unable to participate fully in the Commission’s work due to the non-issuance of visas, including to Konstantin Vorontsov, head of the delegation. In that context, he sought a further postponement of the organizational session for a “reasonable and finite period” in order to give the United States time to fulfil its obligations under the 1947 Headquarters Agreement. “This is not an obstacle that our delegation is creating […] but a question that pertains to all of us,” he emphasized, asking other members to respect his delegation’s legitimate objections in the spirit of goodwill and common sense.
The representative of Cyprus reported on developments during the 10-day suspension, including the convening of a meeting of the Host Country Committee, attended by the United Nations Legal Counsel. He said the latter fully briefed the Secretary-General, who in turn met with the Permanent Representative of the United States.
The representative of the United States expressed regret that the Russian Federation is once again trying to hold the Commission hostage. “The time has come to move forward,” he emphasized, while expressing regret that the Russian Federation is attempting to force the Commission to deviate from its long-standing consensus-based work. Indeed, since no agreement exists on the Russian Federation’s second postponement proposal, a vote will be required to move forward, he said.
Several speakers expressed their view of the two proposals before them: the Russian Federation’s proposal to further postpone the Commission’s work, and the proposal by the United States to push forward with a vote. Some delegates strongly supported the latter, calling for immediate action to move forward with the Commission’s long-delayed procedural work.
Among them was Australia’s representative, who pointed out that the General Assembly’s First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) mandated the Commission to make every effort to meet. Emphasizing that a Bureau and a Chair — at the very least — will be required to break the current impasse, he objected to the Russian Federation’s postponement proposal and supported moving move forward with a vote.
Mexico’s representative expressed sympathy for the Russian Federation and other delegations experiencing challenges in obtaining visas. “We are very concerned about this,” she said, underlining the right of all countries to be represented at their desired level. However, she noted that the matter does not belong before the Disarmament Commission. That body — alongside others in the international disarmament architecture — already suffers many delays, she said. Moreover, matters before the Commission today are not substantive in nature, she pointed out, while urging members to push forward with the election of a bureau.
Angola’s representative, speaking on behalf of the African Group, struck a similar note, saying that while the regional bloc is sympathetic to concerns over the non-issuance of visas, the matter should be addressed in the context of the Host Country Committee.
Other speakers, however, sounded the alarm about the potentially negative impacts of the non-issuance of visas. China’s representative warned that such actions risk undermining the legitimacy of the United Nations, adding: “This is not a bilateral issue […] nor a procedural matter.”
Iran’s representative said the United States continues to disregard its obligations under the Host Country Agreement and to impose irresponsible, unilateral policies with impunity. More recently, that country has been stubbornly refusing to issue visas, resulting in “severe damage to multilateralism in general”, he said, expressing his delegation’s extreme concern over those developments.
Nicaragua’s representative agreed, stressing: “We do not want to see this as an issue that isolates a particular delegation because every delegation could be affected.” He went on to underline the sovereign equality of States.
Venezuela’s representative reiterated that the representation of States at the United Nations is a central concern and not merely a procedural issue.
Syria’s representative was among speakers who sounded the alarm about possible negative repercussions if the Commission were to deviate from its long-standing consensus-based position and start resorting to votes, as requested today by the United States. Members have found themselves at an impasse in the past, but still managed to continue to work on the basis of consensus, he recalled, cautioning: “Beginning to take votes will lead us down a path we are not willing to take.”
Egypt’s representative agreed with those points, adding that, according to the rules of procedure, the Commission is not, in fact, at liberty to deviate from its consensus basis.
Japan’s representative said that, while the visa issues are concerning, the presence of heads of delegation is not required for members to proceed with the Commission’s procedural matters. However, he also shared concerns about the legitimacy of a decision to deviate from the Commission’s consensus basis.
China’s representative joined other speakers in expressing sympathy with the concerns raised by the Russian Federation, while calling upon the Secretariat and the relevant parties to engage in mediation in order to break the impasse as soon as possible.
The representative of Belarus pointed out that the recent meeting of the Host Country Committee shed light on a possible path forward, with the assistance of the Secretary-General. “This question is being addressed, so let’s allow a little more time,” he said, expressing support for the Russian Federation’s proposal to postpone the organizational session for a second time.
Other speakers expressed frustration with the confusion and delays more broadly. Malaysia’s representative emphasized the urgency of the Commission’s work, stating: “This is the very platform that allows Member States to sit together and discuss views from different parts of the political spectrum.” Noting that the Commission currently has two proposals before it, he expressed concern that delegations are being pushed into political decisions they are not prepared to take.