I organized a reception last night at the family catering business (Wareham House!) to inaugurate Oxfam New Zealand’s Wellington office. It was a lot of fun. About eighty representatives of the capital’s diplomatic, political, media, and non-governmental organizations came. We were especially pleased that Hon. Luamanuvao Winnie Laban agreed to speak. She is Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector and also member of parliament for the Mana electorate, where my parents live.

I did some shopping today at the heavily secured Boroka Foodworld supermarket. My expat colleague from the highlands wanted to pick up some hard-to-find produce like yoghurt and spinach. My shopping criteria was for products made in PNG that were not perishable. Picked up some ground coffee from Goroka for NZD$4.20/K8.20 per pound, a few cans of “Diana” tuna, a jar of banana-ginger jam, a pot of honey, and few savoury wafer biscuits that seem to be popular. While the packaging looked great, I decided against the cans of corned beef… Customs in Australia were a bit annoyed, but let me keep everything! Returning to New Zealand via Oz was a bit of a shock – poverty/wealth, black/white – all less than 2 hours apart…

I’ve only had a glimpse in, but Papua New Guinea seems like an amazing country. It is overwhelming rural and Port Moresby felt more like a town than the capital of the country with 5.8 million people divided between the mountainous highlands, coastal areas, and islands. Over 850 indigenous languages are spoken, while Pidgin English or “Tok Pisin” is principal unifying language. Trying to follow Pidgin is a lot of fun. Woman is “meri” so my name came in for some humourous name-calling (like “razor meri” or “sharp/fine woman.”

Since independence in 1975 from its Australian administrators, the government has struggled to govern under the Westminster-style parliamentary system. Infrastructure is minimal. Airplanes are the only means to get around most parts of the country and the flights aren’t cheap (US$500+). Corruption is rampant and crime serious. Tribal warfare continues in the highlands and conflicts have arisen over foreign exploitation of the country’s vast oil, gas, and mineral reserves. During the week I read articles in the national Post-Courier newspaper with headlines such as: “gang taunts cops as they rape woman” and “infant devoured by dogs” and “terror on Mt. Hagen streets.”

Just one national TV station, EM TV, screening news at 6pm and music videos from around the Pacific as well as copious amounts of cricket. One of the biggest stories that week was the cancellation of an A$8 billion gas pipeline from the southern highlands down to Queensland.

In 2006, Oxfam started working with some local health, women’s and youth groups in Tari who were concerned to try and reduce violence in and around their town. After a State of Emergency was declared in September, there was a fear that police would enter communities to seize weapons by force. So the civil society groups worked together with the community police in Tari to encourage the peaceful surrender of weapons and no police raids took place. Since the emergency, security in Tari has improved markedly; a road project is now underway and services are being restored (banking, post office). Still basic education and healthcare are apparently abysmal and Tari is pushing for the establishment of a separate Hela province to try and improve access to services. I went to PNG to meet with these and other groups to plan Oxfam’s research and advocacy into gun violence prevention. This photo shows James Palona from Tari Urban Youth Group (left) and Joseph Worai, who runs Community Based Health Care from Tari.

I spent New Year’s 2007 in Gisborne in the North Island’s East Cape at a Rhythm and Vines party on a vineyard together with 18,000 drunken kids. I drove up from Wellington with an old friend Michelle Snater and we camped at the site the night before the party started. We spent the day collecting signatures on a petition to make trade fair before the kids got too drunk. Once the sun went down my Oxfam colleague Kirsty took the petitions over the stage where we showed them to the audience and then attached them to balloons to be released in a dawn ceremony.

Last night the annual film festival opened in Wellington. It couldn’t have come at a better time given that we’ve been battling weeks of non-stop rain, wind, and generally miserable weather. I went to the Penthouse theater in Courtney Place to catch a documentary film about the global trade in coffee called Black Gold. Disarm had screened in the same festival as this film a few weeks ago in Jackson Hole, but I never got a chance to see it. After premiering at Sundance Black Gold has since been hitting all the major festivals, a list that I guess includes the NZ Film Fest???

After the screening we dragged the visiting filmmaker, a Brit named Nick Francis, down to the street through a hailstorm to our offices for a talk about Fair Trade. The David versus Goliath tale profiles the work of Tedasse, an Ethiopian coffee exporter, as he attempts to overcome all the barriers to get a decent price for his farmer’s coffee. The film provides a brilliant avenue for Oxfam to raise issues about unfair trade rules and explain terms like subsidies and tarriffs that normally put people to sleep. It should open in theaters across the UK and US later this year. So please see it! Check out their site: www.blackgoldmovie.com

It became difficult to write daily updates in the closing days of the conference, mainly because I was there until midnight on Wednesday 5th and until 2.30am on Thursday 6th July. The President scheduled informal sessions on those evenings to try and reach consensus on some of the more contentious elements of his outcome document – future of the process, arms trade, ammunition, civilian posession, etc.

I left the conference to return to DC on Friday 7th at 3.30pm. Little had happened until that point. Governments were talking to each other bilaterally to try and sort out some of the problems and all indications pointed to an evening session to finalize the outcome document. Instead when I arrived in DC close to 6pm I received a text from my colleague that read: “total meltdown. no outcome document. complete failure of UN arms trade conference.”

It turns out that the President of the meeting gave up in his attempt to get the governments to agree to the final outcome document and closed the conference just before 6pm Friday. He then did a press conference where he described the meeting as a success because the 2001 Programme of Action (PoA) remained “an enabling framework that empowered states, international and regional organizations and other relevant organizations and civil society” to work to end the illicit trade in small arms.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan subsequently expressed disappointment that delegates were unable to agree on a common declaration to guide further action. Without an outcome document from the meeting, states in effect are left with guidance on future implementation of the PoA and no mandate to meet again although Canada has said it will go ahead and convene an unofficial and informal meeting in May 2007 to discuss the need for global controls on arms transfer controls between states.

The NGOs to the conference had focused much of their attention and effort on influencing the outcome document language and spent less time educating governments on what would be required to negotiate an Arms Trade Treaty. This is because the ATT was not seen as achievable via the 2001 PoA and they did not want to detract attention from the PoA. Here’s a link to the press statement by Control Arms… In it, the NGOs blame a small number of countries (Cuba, India, Iran, Israel and Pakistan) for holding the rest of the conference hostage due to the decision-making process that guided the conference.

Today the President of the Review Conference released an updated outcome document for discussion by the meeting. The nine-page paper is three pagers shorter than the previous version released last Wednesday. In the afternoon, President Kariyawasam opened up discussion on the paper by placing it on overhead projectors shown to delegates for their comment and suggested amendments. Over 100 governments making comments on one document seemed like editing by committee and unfortunately it was.

The question now for me is how much more the NGOs will put up with this meeting??? We’re not moving us any closer toward the goal of an Arms Trade Treaty. Tomorrow is US Independence Day when, contrary to NRA propoganda, we will not be meeting…

This morning I witnessed the gun lobby in action. It was finally time for the statements by non-governmental organizations. The back row of the room filled with American middle-aged white men, members of the National Rifle Association (NRA). It was quite a sight. One cautioned that regulating the global gun trade would inhibit sustainable development by curbing big game hunting tourism in southern Africa?!?

The real NGOs spoke next with 16 different statements. Unfortunately the morning session coincided with World Cup football and soon the room had emptied substantially as the diplomats watched Germany beat Argentina on penatlty shoot-outs in the cafe outside. Since we are on international territory at the United Nations, the diplomats can smoke in the café and corridors. Something you can no longer do indoors elsewhere in New York.

I wound up spending much of the afternoon in the smoke-filled café watching another game and catching up with old friends. In the plenary room, the President had inexplicably scheduled a bizarre “case studies” session in which countries talked about their needs in the clean up of small arms and light weapons. With no outcome or meaning it was an odd session considering we have spent the past four days listening to very similar country statements.

I spent a lot of time trying to find out the buzz on the anticipated outcome of the conference, in particular where states are falling behind text recommending global guidelines on legitimate trade in small arms and light weapons. The guidelines would help provide some impetus to the call for an arms trade treaty, but several major powers are either lukewarm to the idea or downright hostile. We’ll know the outcome one week from now…

The meeting is hopelessly behind schedule. Eight moree governments spoke in the morning followed by international and regional organizations such as Interpol and NATO. Finally the President of the Review Conference, Sri Lankan Ambassador Kariyawasam, closed the morning session by promising that the remaining governments (some 20 states) speak on Monday.

The NGOs will still get to deliver their statements tomorrow morning after which inexplicably a time-wasting session on assistance and cooperation has been allocated for the rest of the day. The NGOs unfortunately intend to provide about 16 speeches to the plenary followed by an unknown number of gun lobbby statements including the National Rifle Association, which has gotten into the meeting as a “NGO.”

Things got more interesting in the afternoon as the President took feedback on the principal outcome document of the meeting a twelve-page “strategy for further implementation.” Forty governments gave their feedback with Western or developed states such as New Zealand converging around elements favoured by the NGOs such as strengthened text on arms transfers and the need to reinsert language on the linkages between small arms/light weapons and development, human rights, and gender. The President has apponted three facilitators (Colombia, Japan, and Switzerland) to consult with concerned countries on the text to return Monday with their findings.

After finally gave an indication on how hbe intends to handle the remainder of the

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