#ArmsTreaty Update from #UNGA’s 1st Committee

October 13 2011, 11:28 AM  by Øistein Thorsen

During the second week of UN General Assembly 1st committee meetings an overwhelming majority of states made reference to the ongoing process to develop an arms trade treaty (ATT), showcasing a strong interest in fulfilling the call of the General Assembly in 2009 to negotiate such a treaty. However, variances in views of the strength and purpose of the potential treaty remain.

By Katherine Prizeman | Global Action to Prevent War

Many states expressed confidence and support for the ATT process under the leadership of Ambassador Moritán of Argentina, including Ecuador, Switzerland, and Denmark. Denmark and Switzerland’s delegation both said that the Chair’s papers serve as a useful starting point for negotiations. Support for these papers will go a long way to ensuring the success of the negotiating conference. Other strong calls for a robust arms treaty came from CARICOM, Australia, and New Zealand. The New Zealand delegate indicated that next year must see a “comprehensive and legally-binding international treaty which establishes global standards for all transfers of conventional arms” and supported the link between such a treaty and international and regional stability and development. Likewise, Norway’s representative referred to the human costs on civilians of the irresponsible transfer of conventional weapons as well as the negative impact on long-term development. Thailand’s delegation also referred to the humanitarian impacts of illegal flows and Mexico’s representative called for an ATT that respects human rights. The representative of Nepal, although not referring explicitly to the ATT, expressed support for a legally-binding instrument to regulate transfers with transparency and accountability. Lesotho and Nigeria’s delegations also made an important contribution to the debate by making specific reference to the risk of diversion, which is a key issue in the arms trade debate.

Other delegations although referring positively to the ATT process and expressing support for it, made explicit their view of the ATT as a narrower instrument of trade regulation. Russia’s representative stated, “We consider its main goal to cut off the channels of illicit arms trafficking,” rather than wider humanitarian and disarmament goals. Egypt, Israel, and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) were clear that any ATT must respect the principle of sovereignty such that all decisions for arms transports remain under the full responsibility of states. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations argued that the issue of regulating the trade in conventional weapons must respect article 51 of the UN Charter stressing the inalienable right to self-defence. Tanzania likewise stated that states “should not possess more weapons than those types and amounts acceptable and justifiable under Article 51 of the Charter.” Indonesia, Lebanon, the Philippines, and Uganda agreed that a future ATT must ensure the “right of all states to territorial integrity” and not be subject to abuse to the right of self-defense. Libya warned of the “particularities of each country and the need for self defense.”

Another important linkage was the issue of criminality and terrorism. Israel and Senegal made explicit reference to the linkage between terrorism and illicit trade in conventional arms. Senegal explained that conventional arms are truly the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ perpetuating conflict, promoting criminality, and the increasing risk of terrorism. Algeria called the transfer of illicit arms a major supplier for terrorist groups and crime networks. 

The debate over the inclusion of small arms and light weapons (SALW) and ammunition in the treaty’s scope, which has been a focus of the preparatory committees, was upon touched briefly. Jamaica called for their inclusion under the ATT’s scope, while the NAM states reiterated that the UN Programme of Action on small arms remains the primary framework for addressing illicit trade in these weapons.

Some delegations expressed caution about the ATT process. India’s delegation warned member states that a viable and effective ATT should take into account the interests of all stakeholders through a process that does not impose artificial deadlines. Likewise, Cuba and China reiterated the absolute necessity of a consensus-driven process. The Republic of Korea spoke of consensus insofar as the ATT should “reflect well-balanced deliberations in terms of feasibility, scope, and parameters so as to attract the largest possible amount of members.”

The context in which the ATT was discussed was assorted, although the lion’s share of states spoke positively of the preparatory process and the opportunities for next year’s negotiating conference. States should seize this momentum as the ATT process heads into its final stage and work to establish the very highest possible standards for a treaty with as wide a scope as possible. Hopefully, First Committee discussion will continue to encourage a fusion of the dual purposes of a robust ATT—to regulate trade in conventional arms, with the widest possible scope, as well as prevent their proliferation in illicit markets that lead to human rights abuses and criminality.

It is also worth noting that the conversation inside the UN has been accompanied, interestingly, by the trial of notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout here in New York this month. This media-charged trial has helped to underscore the desperate need for an international norm to curb illicit trafficking in conventional arms with a real-time example of the dangers of irresponsible trade in conventional arms. For more information on the Bout trial, please see http://trackingbout.posterous.com/.