More debate on implementation

July 12 2011, 7:12 PM  by Ray Acheson

On day two of the third arms trade treaty preparatory committee, delegations continued offering comments on the chair’s papers on implementation. Debate over the primary objective of the treaty continued to underscore states’ suggestions on implementation mechanisms.

by Ray Acheson, Reaching Critical Will of WILPF

The major weapon producing and exporting states articulated a vision of a simple treaty that above all ensures that “commerce”— the sale of weapons—is unhindered by stringent transfer criteria or robust treaty implementation measures. To this end, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (P5: China, France, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, and United States), along with Canada and India, stipulated that the implementation provisions should be “simple, short and easy to implement.” Arguing against the inclusion of any specific implementation measures, the P5 said, “Domestic implementation in accordance with national legislation and regulations in line with the obligations that would arise from any possible ATT would be the most practical way to address implementation.”

Other states, however, are interested in ensuring that the treaty does not leave room for loopholes that allow weapons to be transferred irresponsibly, where they could be used to commit international humanitarian law or human rights abuses, to exacerbate conflict, or to undermine socioeconomic development.  The Mexican delegation argued that the treaty needs to be sufficiently clear in its implementation requirements so as to ensure that there is no doubt about what is expected in national application. Meanwhile, the Egyptian delegation emphasized that common implementation standards are necessary in order to ensure equitable implementation of the treaty.

However, the Egyptian delegation also suggested that the approach to the treaty of listing criteria for arms transfers should be reconsidered, arguing that criteria would be ambiguous, subjective, and unpredictable. Some states are concerned that criteria will allow the treaty to be used as a political tool. They reject, as the Arab Group put it yesterday, “attempts to politicize or employ criteria such as human rights and/or sustainable development … as a pretext for intervening in internal affairs of other States, or controlling their required means for legitimate self-defense, or issuing classifications and judgments against other countries.”

But for many states, and most of civil society, setting standard criteria for arms transfer decisions is the point of the ATT—they see the treaty as a gauge that all states must use before authorizing an arms transfer, and they argue that this will help improve equitably, as well as human security. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) suggested that the provision of guidelines for applying transfer criteria and making risk assessments could help avoid subjective implementation. Guidelines can outline indicators “that can be used as a basis for assessing risks, thereby helping to make risk assessments more uniform, predictable and objective,” ICRC representative Peter Herby explained in his intervention. “Guidelines can also suggest sources of pertinent and reliable information and provide examples of the serious violations or other negative consequences of the ATT’s criteria aim to prevent.” The ICRC has already published a practical guide to applying international humanitarian law criteria to arms transfer decisions, and other groups have published guides on applying human rights standards (Amnesty International) and sustainable development criteria (Oxfam International).

Many delegations remain emphatic that the ATT should put human security at the forefront of its ambitions. For many states, including the Bahamas, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Jamaica, Mexico, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay, respect for human rights and international humanitarian law are “fundamental pillars” of the treaty. Kenya’s delegation said that the “value of human life should form basis for the future ATT,” while Nigeria’s delegation argued that the implementation process should highlight the reduction of arms sales and promote “other areas of societal growth and human development”. A variety of states have suggested that the ATT should broach areas of arms production and stockpiling, suggesting that the treaty should not simply be a tool to facilitate the smooth functioning of the arms industry. The African Group argued that the ATT should “enhance regulation of global arms production, stockpiling, and trade among States,” while the Arab Group suggested the treaty include provisions for a verification or monitoring system for states producing and exporting arms and that the issues of production and stockpiling should be included in obligatory national reporting. The Iranian delegation asked how the treaty will provide for major arms producing countries to gradually reduce their production.

In this vein, Iran’s delegation emphasized that the treaty should not only be a treaty of major arms producing and exporting countries but that it should be balanced in terms of rights and obligations of all states. This type of “balance” is another sticking point for treaty negotiations. Most weapon producing states are emphatic that the ATT should in no way imply an obligation to export arms only if the requesting state appears to meet the criteria set out by the treaty. They argue that arms transfer decisions are a matter of sovereign choice and that all exporting states must be free to apply stricter criteria to their assessments than appears in the final ATT. While recognizing this right, some states have expressed desire for the treaty to include provisions for consultation, mediation, and/or dispute resolution to address transfer denials. The weapons producers largely object; for example, Sweden’s delegation said it would have no problem with a dispute settlement mechanism regarding implementation of treaty obligations but would oppose it for transfer decisions, arguing that this would introduce a supranational element to treaty.

As discussions on implementation continue for the rest of this week, and as negotiations begin next year, the varying perspectives of producers and exporters, importers and users, and of citizens of these states will continue to articulate their goals for the treaty. But as the German delegation said, at some point all states are importers or exporters. At some point, we are all users and victims, as well—excessive spending on weapons production and stockpiling in exporting states undermines socioeconomic development there, just as it does in the purchasing states; the use of these weapons can cost life and limb in all countries of the world. In the arms trade, we are all connected. This is why it is imperative for all states to work for the strongest possible treaty.