Interview with Sergio de Queiroz Duarte, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs

On 2 July 2007, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced the appointment of Sergio de Queiroz Duarte of Brazil as the High Representative for Disarmament at the Under-Secretary-General level.
Mr. Duarte is not a newcomer to diplomacy for he served for 48 years in the Brazilian Foreign Service before taking up his new position in the United Nations. He has a solid experience of disarmament issues to his credit, and we might mention in passing that he was a member of the Brazilian delegation to the 18-nation Disarmament Committee, has been Brazil’s Special Representative for Disarmament Affairs in Geneva (1979-1986), and has served on the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Q: Sir, you were appointed High Representative for Disarmament Affairs in July 2007. How has it been going from national diplomacy to the United Nations?
There is of course a difference in being a representative of a Member State and working as a U.N. official. In the latter case there is a different kind of allegiance and accountability and one must look at the issues from a wider angle than in the case of a national diplomat. As for the substance of the issues at hand, I spent most of my diplomatic career dealing with multilateral disarmament issues, and this background is of course very useful in my present capacity.
Q: I wonder if you could tell us a little about what you office is doing, and what you would you like to achieve while being in office?
My office`s functions, as set by the Secretary-General, include assisting him in discharging his responsibilities under the U.N. Charter and the mandates given by the General Assembly, the Security Council and other organs of the U.N. in the field of disarmament and related security matters, as well as in discharging the specific responsibilities entrusted to him by multilateral disarmament agreements. Besides, to identify emerging issues and challenges in this field and make appropriate recommendations to the Secretary-General, to provide substantive organizational support to the disarmament machinery, to promote multilateral efforts both in the field of weapons of mass destruction and conventional weapons, to support regional approaches to disarmament and security, and to advance the ideals and objectives of the U.N. in this field through an educational and outreach program and interact with permanent missions, non-governmental organizations and civil society in general.
Q: With all existing disarmament bodies of the UN, how is your office coordinate the work of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, and what are the major issues in question for this year?
My office has a branch in Geneva, which coordinates not only the work of the Conference on Disarmament but also that of several other important conferences that take place in Geneva. The Conference on Disarmament has faced many difficulties in reaching a consensus on several issues that have been on its agenda for many years, including a treaty prohibiting the production of fissile material for use in weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, nuclear disarmament, negative security assurances (to assure non-nuclear-weapon states against nuclear attacks or threats of attack), and the prevention of an arms race in outer space. I am confident that the Conference will continue its efforts to reach such a consensus in the year ahead.
Q: We hear a lot about the non proliferation of Nuclear weapons. What exactly are you doing in this context?
The proliferation of nuclear weapons is one of the greatest concerns of the international community. My office follows closely the review process of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), whose States Parties hold one major conference every five years and three preparatory conferences in the intervening period. My office provides substantive and administrative services at these meetings – we do all we can to assist the States Parties to the NPT in strengthening and consolidating the relevant norms.
Q: What is in your opinion the biggest obstacle regarding an effective observation of multilateral treaties and reducing the threat and numbers of existing nuclear weapons?
The rule of law must be better understood and complied with by the international community in general regarding multilateral treaties on disarmament. The reduction of the numbers of existing nuclear weapons has been so far dealt with between the two major possessors of such weapons and some measures have been taken by others. More work needs to be done to reduce the reliance on nuclear weapons in military doctrines of the nuclear-weapon States, and efforts must be made to increase confidence and enhance international security.
Q: The Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, which chaired by Hans Blix addressed sixty recommendations back in May 2006, have you had taken on any of those recommendations?
The international WMD Commission, widely known as the « Blix Commission », did indeed come up with 60 recommendations, and half of them dealt with nuclear weapons, which remain the most deadly weapons on earth. Many of the Commission’s recommendations have either echoed, or been incorporated into, General Assembly resolutions, which in turn establish mandates for the work of my office. We promote the elimination and non-proliferation of all types of WMD and try to encourage more states to join or comply with existing multilateral treaties, which are among the most important recommendations of the Blix Commission.
Q: There has been quite a lot of talk about the cluster munitions; would you please tell us what you are doing in this context?
Through the Conventional Arms Branch and the Geneva Branch my office follows very closely the work of the two parallel processes in the field of cluster munitions. The Secretary-General has made clear his support to the humanitarian objectives of these efforts. The Secretary-General is the depositary of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, under which there is work in progress regarding the possibility of a Protocol on cluster munitions. We provide assistance and support to these meetings and hope that early agreement can be found on the proposals currently discussed.
Q: Post-conflict disarmament mechanism in small arms and light weapons has been a fragile and long process, have there been progress in this field?
Through our regional centers we have been able to assist in the destruction of small arms and light weapons in regions of post conflict. In this connection, we work as a team with several agencies of the United Nations, such as UNDP, ICRC, UNICEF, UNMAT and others.
Q: What are the progresses in regulation of the international Small arms and light weapons trade?
In June and July 2006, a Conference was held to review progress made in the implementation of the 2001 Program of Action (PoA) to Prevent, Combat and Erradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons. That Conference reaffirmed the relevance of the PoA and its continued implementation. In the current year, States will meet for the second time to review the implementation of the Program. In addition to the work of the groups of governmental experts on illicit brokering and on the UN Register of Conventional Arms, two other expert groups will start work in 2008: one on the improvement of cooperative efforts to deal with excessive stocks of munitions and the other on the feasibility and possible guidelines for a treaty on illicit trade in such arms. My office also cooperates with individual governments and non-governmental organizations in the field of small arms and light weapons.
Q: Finally, do you have a message that you would like to get out to the international community here in Geneva?
Progress in disarmament and arms control has been hard to achieve over the past few decades and setbacks have happened side by side with some accomplishments. There is today a solid corpus of international positive law on these questions and a set of political principles and objectives generally agreed and respected by the international community. Compliance with commitments accepted under these instruments is essential for the success of further efforts, as well as the strengthening of the common resolve to continue striving for new agreements that will enhance peace and security. States and civil society must work together in this endeavor.