Trust and Security digest (July 2020)

4 Aug 2020

This extract is taken from the July 2020 issue of The digest, GPD’s newsletter. Sign up here.


After a fractious June at the UN First Committee’s Open Ended Working Group (OEWG), the group’s Chair has sent a letter to member states, setting out a new timeline and way forward.

Key things to be aware of:

  • The dates and themes for the next three intersessionals have been confirmed. Each will focus on a different area of the OEWG’s mandate: international law (29 September—1 Oct) confidence building measures and capacity building (17-19 November); and future institutional dialogue (1-3 December). They’ll be carried out in a “hybrid” format, with delegates in New York able to attend the meetings in-person, and others joining online. The session on international law looks set to be particularly contentious; not a lot of progress is expected on the thorniest questions, though it is at least hoped that states reiterate that international law, including international human rights law, applies in cyberspace.
  • The crucial final substantive meeting—where the zero draft of the report will be discussed—has been “tentatively” scheduled for March 2021, avoiding the need for a silence procedure for now. Presumably the Chair is hoping that, by the end of the year, discussions will be so advanced that it won’t be in any state’s interest to jeopardise them.
  • As with previous letters from the OEWG Chair, there is no mention of non-governmental participation. However, we’ve heard on the grapevine that participation of at least non-ECOSOC accredited NGOs will be allowed. Whether there will be any other opportunities for NGOs to engage remains unknown. The resolution which set up the OEWG includes the possibility of “intersessional consultative meetings” with non-governmental stakeholders—which means it could happen, if member states want it.

Meanwhile, over at the Third Committee—where a new convention on cybercrime is set to be developed—the process is starting to take shape. The agenda for the first organisational meeting (25-27 August) is currently being drafted—so far, we know that the Chair and Vice-Chairs of the Committee will be elected there, and various modalities (including the timeline and schedule of work) agreed. On the question of NGO participation—according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, an update is coming from the Secretariat of the Third Committee soon.

Member states have also begun to submit their views on what should be agreed at the meeting, with Canada, the UK and US pushing for a consensus-based approach to decisionmaking. As a participant at RightsCon pointed out last week, such an approach would likely make the work of the committee extremely difficult: many member states don’t even agree that a convention is needed. The states pushing for this approach cannot be unaware of this, leading some to speculate that their advocacy for it is part of a broader strategy.

Civil society groups made clear their concerns with the resolution on a proposed cybercrime convention when it was adopted last year. These concerns remain urgent, and were repeatedly brought up during a session we co-organised at RightsCon last week, “UNdoing progress and rights with a new global cybercrime treaty?” (note: RightsCon login required)