It’s that time again: #ArmsTreaty Negotiations Continue

March 19 2013, 7:28 AM  by Lorey Campese

Human rights? Check. Long, meandering speeches? Check. Statements by over half of the countries in the world? Check.

Yes, it can only be one thing! The second and (hopefully) final UN Diplomatic Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) began today at the United Nations. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon opened the Conference talking about furniture. An odd start, but he was making a point. Armchairs, he said, are more heavily regulated, than arms. But whereas armchairs help you relax, the international arms trade “undermines sustainable development… fosters armed conflict and undercuts peacekeeping, peace building and humanitarian efforts.  They lead to massive human rights violations and threaten gender empowerment.”

Indeed, now is the time for states to finally drum out a strong and robust Arms Trade Treaty in order to prevent all the problems the Secretary General listed as results of the largely unregulated arms trade.

The mood of most states, certainly the most progressive, was perhaps illustrated best by the Ambassador of Trinidad and Tobago, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community. He said that  although the document agreed to in July 2012 was a good basis for these negotiations, it is also an “imperfect document whose defects must be cured”. That draft text, which was produced at the end of the first round of negotiations in July 2012, has become the focus of attention for many states as well as the basis of these negotiations. As the Trinidadian ambassador stated, the document is far too weak and full of loopholes, and must be strengthened.

This is now the task that States face over the coming nine days. 

It would seem that they are equal to this task. During the morning session, the Mexican Ambassador read out a list of 108 states that submitted a joint statement, telling the rest of the Conference that the July paper needed to be a lot stronger for them to accept it. As they said, a weak Arms Trade Treaty would serve to legitimize the very same illicit trade it was meant to curtail. These 108 states were joined by a number of others during the session, including many from the Pacific region that had not already joined. As such, nearly 2 thirds of the world’s states showed that they were committed to a strong and robust ATT!

The rest of the morning and afternoon sessions were largely filled with states giving their general positions on everything and anything to do with the Treaty. As in July, this largely saw one group of states argue for a strong and robust treaty while a small group argued for compromise and consensus. An even smaller group was still arguing for elements that would weaken and dilute the draft treaty significant., and luckily an even smaller group still arguing for elements to weaken or dilute the treaty. By the mid afternoon, some delegations were getting frustrated, and the Spanish ambassador interjected that he had worked out that states were speaking on average for over 6 minutes each, and wondered when they could move on to substantive talks. It just so happened that he asked the question just after the last state had stopped talking, much to everyone’s amusement, and so the conference then went into more focused discussion to consider all the parts of the proposed treaty.  

The Preamble and Principles were the focus of attention in the short time we had today. Whilst a number of states suggested a number of specific modifications, mostly to make things legally sound, the main division appeared to be just how much emphasis the Treaty places on the Principles section. A number of states, including Cuba and Egypt, wanted to make the Principles part of the main text of the Treaty, whilst some, such as the USA, even suggested that they were not relevant to the workings of the Treaty at all and could be disposed with. Most countries fell somewhere in between these two positions, but this issue seems likely to continue to be a divisive one. 

Tomorrow’s discussion will turn to some of the most important areas of discussion  – the scope and criteria of the TreatyIn the meantime, New York has been hit by a sudden snowstorm, so as we all go to sleep on the first day, let’s hope tomorrow brings a thaw in both the negotiations and the weather!