Control Arms at the UN: an insider’s view
Written by Lorey Campese, Oxfam
With the bang of a gavel and a brief applause, the 2013 UN General Assembly First Committee was over.
Lasting a full month, the Committee, which includes all UN members discussed some of the world’s most pressing issues relating to disarmament and international security. High among these was the issue of the irresponsible arms trade and the landmark Arms Trade Treaty adopted this year to prevent it.
Sitting in the NGO section of Conference Room 3 at UN Headquarters as things wrapped up, I found myself thinking about the dominating role the treaty has had on this year’s debate.
First Committee works like this: countries make general statements, then they talk about nukes, weapons of mass destruction, peaceful uses of outer space, and a few other issues on the margins of international security. Then everyone’s favorite part comes: the conventional weapons debate.
During this segment, countries talk about the need to stop the black market trade of AK-47s, specific regions that live in the shadow of the gun, and all the things that involved weapons that go bang and boom.
This year, 9 out of every 10 countries used their speech to discuss the Arms Trade Treaty. Some countries noted specific provisions that would save lives. Others made passionate interventions urging all countries to sign and ratify.
At Control Arms we were busy all through the month. Every day brought new actions and events for the team that gathered in New York. The month began with dozens of campaigners crowding into the back rows at the UN to listen to countries deliver statements. Many of us were glued to our smart phones and laptops tweeting our encouragement to States making positive speeches on the ATT and critiquing the few that aimed to undermine it (like North Korea and Iran).
Then came the events. Control Arms collaborated with 12 governments to host a “hat-trick” of 3 events in 3 days, each on an important ATT topic. The first concentrated on how the treaty could help reduce armed violence beyond the conflict zone – like the high levels of armed violence experienced in many Caribbean and Latin American countries.
The following day’s event focused on preventing gender-based violence. This provision in the ATT was one of the key victories during negotiations and represents the first time a treaty has ever specifically referenced GBV.
The final event focused on how the 50 ratifications for the treaty to “enter into force” can be achieved as swiftly as possible (we’re already at 8 ratifications, not bad for a treaty that is only 4 months old!).
After the statements and events, it was our turn to speak. During this special segment where NGO get to make statements, Anna Macdonald, one of our coalition’s co-chairs spoke on behalf of Control Arms. In her speech, she called for action on the ground, not just words on paper, and urged states to keep up momentum and push for entry into force in 2014.
When the main resolution calling for countries to sign and ratify the ATT passed with 141 in favor and zero against, the action on First Committee was nearly complete.
That’s when Julius Arile, our campaign’s millionth supporter from rural Kenya and an aspiring marathon runner, put the exclamation point on the busy month. He realized his dream by running the New York City Marathon. That would be a feat in itself, but he didn’t just run it… he finished fourth overall among the steepest competition in the world.
The buzz at the UN, the energy at Control Arms, and Julius’ inspiring story are all indicators of the Arms Trade Treaty’s growing momentum. The day when the ATT’s true impact is felt around the world isn’t far away.
Lorey Campese is a Humanitarian Campaigner at Oxfam, and Communications Lead for the Control Arms Coalition. Follow him on Twitter @MrCampese.