ATT 1st PrepCom: Day Two: The Debate on Elements

July 13 2010, 5:09 PM by Ray Acheson, Reaching Critical Will of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

On Tuesday, government delegations continued their discussion of “elements” for a future Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). For the most part, there again seemed to be broad agreement that the Treaty should have a broad scope regarding what types of weapons and types of activities would be covered and that it should be implemented at the national level with the UN Secretariat playing a nominal role to support implementation measures and states providing assistance and cooperation to each other.

That said, delegations did continue to disagree with each other on specifics. In terms of what types of weapons should be covered by an ATT, the majority spoke in favour of including the broadest range of weapon systems, components, and related manufacturing equipment. However, a few delegations expressed caution against the Treaty being too broad, too complex, or too comprehensive. There is still disagreement, as well, over the objectives and parameters for the Treaty: many delegations want the Treaty to be a tool for helping prevent human rights abuses or violations of international humanitarian law and to help increase regional and global security. Others think the Treaty should be limited to preventing the diversion of arms to the illicit trade, without interfering in states’ internal affairs or decisions and agreements made between states.

The following provides an overview of positions as articulated by the delegations who spoke today on elements of the ATT. Tomorrow, the Chair of the PrepCom will introduce a working paper on the subject, while delegations will move on to discussing “principles” for the Treaty.

Some delegations, such as Bangladesh, Colombia, and Belarus, argued that the Treaty must prevent transfer of arms to terrorists or non-state actors. Pakistan’s delegation rhetorically questioned whether there is any country that has legislation that allows it to transfer weapons to terrorists, questioning whether this is a relevant objective of the Treaty.

Belarus argued that the basic focus of Treaty should be on the illegal manufacture and trade in conventional weapons. Pakistan’s delegation argued this should be the primary, perhaps only, objective of the ATT for the time being since this is, from its perspective, the only thing all states can agree on right now. It also said the Treaty should aim not to disrupt “delicate” regional balances in armaments and armed forces. The Republic of Korea said the Treaty should strike a balance between “humanitarian concerns” and the “legitimate needs of states”.

New Zealand called for the preamble to include language on the contribution of common international arms trade standards on the reduction of human suffering, armed conflict, displacement, terrorism, etc. Costa Rica said the ATT should set conditions for reducing armed violence and strengthening stability and security in all regions. South Africa noted that many states will have different reasons for wanting to pursue this Treaty, and these could be reflected generally in the preamble.

Pakistan’s delegation was the only one to directly address the question of feasibility, arguing that it should not be taken as a forgone conclusion yet that an ATT is feasible. Arguing that the entire argument for an ATT has been derived from the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons (SALW), Pakistan’s delegate questioned whether it was prudent to expand the scope of an ATT to all other conventional weapons (which may be laudable but not doable) or try to universalize existing “extra-UN” mechanisms.

Indonesia’s delegation expressed some skepticism about the need for an ATT, arguing that other processes require legislation related to the arms trade and thus, with or without an ATT, states could be encouraged to develop relevant national legislation.

Many delegations, including those of Bangladesh, Colombia, Uruguay, Brazil, Switzerland, Morocco, and Mexico argued that the ATT should prohibit transfers if the weapons will be used to violate human rights or international humanitarian law. Pakistan’s delegation argues that there is no international consensus on what constitutes a human rights violation and called for the ATT to avoid “subjective criteria”.

Several delegations also argued that other parameters for denying an arms transfer could include:

  • when it provokes or prolongs conflict;
  • when it contributes to destabilizing countries or regions;
  • when it provokes or exacerbates violations against civilian populations;
  • when it is prohibited by UN Security Council resolutions;
  • when it breaches legally-binding commitments to which states are bound; and/or
  • when it violates provisions of the UN Charter.

Scope (weapons)
Most delegations, including Bangladesh, Uruguay, Switzerland, Canada, Republic of Korea, South Africa, and Australia supported the 7+1+1 formulation—that the 7 categories of conventional arms listed under the UN Register of Conventional Arms along with small arms and light weapons and their ammunitions be included in the scope of the future ATT. China supported the inclusion of the 7 categories of the UN Register alone.

Several, including CARICOM, Uruguay, Switzerland, Jamaica…. suggested that the list of weapons be updated regularly to ensure the Treaty remains relevant. Bangladesh, Uruguay, Jamaica, South Africa argued the list should also include equipment used to manufacture relevant weapons and/or related dual-use items. CARICOM had the broadest definition of weapons to be considered, calling for the inclusion of all categories of conventional weapons that could be used for violence in violation of the UN Charter or international humanitarian law. Pakistan’s delegation argued against expanding the scope of the ATT too much, explicitly arguing against the inclusion of dual-use items. The United States, while arguing for the inclusion of a wide range of weapons, agreed that dual-use items should be excluded because it would mean too much ambiguity in the Treaty.

A few delegations, including the European Union and Uruguay, suggested that the Treaty itself should contain only basic definitions so that the Treaty is flexible and inclusive. The EU suggested stricter definitions could be contained in annexes to the Treaty if necessary.

Scope (activities)
Most delegations agreed that the Treaty should reflect the right of all states to “legitimate” production and trade of conventional weapons for self-defence under Article 51 of the UN Charter. Indonesia’s delegation continued to argue strongly that a reference to the right of states to preserve their territorial integrity must be included in the Treaty. However, most delegations also argued that the Treaty should cover the widest range possible of arms trade activities, including import, export, transit, and brokering and should apply to government-government transactions, along with government-private individual, commercial trade, loans and gifts, and other types of transfer arrangements. China’s delegation, however, argued that there are no unified practices or definitions with regard to transshipment, transit, or reexport, and called on the PrepCom to be cautious in addressing these activities.

Several delegations suggested additional elements. Bangladesh and Colombia suggested the ATT could include provisions on storage, management, and disposal of surplus stockpiles. Bangladesh suggested that the ATT establish a comprehensive system to control cross-border movements of all conventional weapons by addressing the capacity of border security forces of transit countries.

Bangladesh also suggested the Treaty should include provisions for marking and tracing of weapons, such as by endorsing the International Tracing Instrument (ITI) or creating new responsibilities for manufacturers to mark each new weapon and each weapon that is to be transferred to another country. Brazil likewise called for weapons to marked in accordance with the ITI or Firearms Protocol.

Pakistan’s delegation argued that the supply and demand sides of the arms trade should be given equal attention. It called for reliable figures of all manufacturing that is going on and asked if it is legitimate for a country to overproduce weapons, arguing, if its bad to produce narcotics because they kill people, then is it bad to produce weapons?

Delegates seemed to agree that the future ATT would need provisions to ensure its implementation and follow-up, but opinions varied on what such mechanisms could include.

Bangladesh and Mexico suggested the ATT encourage the establishment of national arms control agencies to implement the Treaty. The EU suggested that a set of guidelines for national authorities could be developed as annex to the Treaty at a later stage, though it also advocated for the ATT to establish an obligation for each state party to develop a legal and administrative system to control all items and transactions covered by the ATT. Canada encouraged the establishment of national licensing systems and record keeping.

Brazil called for the Treaty to include provisions for a national system of implementation, including the establishment of an effective system of management of transit licenses; requirement of licenses by national authorities of receiving state prior to transfer; prohibition of transfers that haven’t been expressly authorized by all states involved in transaction; and maintenance of detailed records containing information on transfers.
Colombia called for clearer procedures to define uniform criteria for domestic legislation on exchanging information and for the establishment of a centralized database on legal and illegal weapons to help with tracing. Colombia also called for commitments of states to cooperate with requests from other states for information on illicit arms trafficking as well as on the origin and manufacturer of specific weapons.

Colombia, New Zealand, Trinidad and Tobago, Switzerland… suggested monitoring mechanisms to watch and analyze trade and use by the end-user. The European Union, CARICOM, New Zealand, Pacific Islands Forum, South Africa, Australia, and Costa Rica called for regular reporting on arms transfers to enhance transparency and monitoring. The EU, CARICOM, Trinidad and Tobago, Switzerland….. also suggested that minimal structure within the UN Secretariat could be designed to keep records and support implementation. The vast majority called for the Treaty to include provisions on international cooperation and assistance. The EU, Switzerland, and Mexico advocated for the Treaty to have a regular review mechanism.

Many countries want the Treaty to contain a provision respecting UN arms embargoes on the production, sale, and transfer of weapons. Others, such as Colombia, Brazil, and Trinidad and Tobago argued the Treaty should establish a sanctions mechanism for states that violate the Treaty and a mechanism to try individuals that violate it. On the other hand, Morocco emphasized that the ATT should not be a mechanism for imposing embargoes, but rather, should be a mechanism to ensure control over the arms trade. South Africa called for a “compliance mechanism” that could be based on the models from other treaties, such as the Chemical Weapons Convention or Mine Ban Treaty.

CARICOM and Trinidad and Tobago urged the Treaty to include a dispute settlement mechanism for addressing differences of interpretation or application of the Treaty. Pakistan’s delegation asked, if two sovereign countries engage in an arms trade, what right does the international community to interfere, and what mechanisms would they use to do so? Likewise, China’s delegations emphasized the importance of non-interference in the internal decision making of sovereign states.

Future sessions of the PrepCom
Ambassador Moritán, Chair of the PrepCom, also announced the dates of the next two sessions: 28 February–4 March 2011 and 11–15 July 2011. He also said a final PrepCom would be held in 2012 before the negotiating conference.
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