Moving forward on the #armstreaty at the #UNGA #1com

October 3 2011, 2:51 PM  by Øistein Thorsen

As the arms trade treaty (ATT) process enters its final stages, diplomats are preparing for the UN negotiating conference on the ATT from 2–27 July 2012. During February and July of 2011, delegates participated in the second and third preparatory committees, continuing an exchange of views on a wide range of ATT-related issues including: the goals and objectives of the treaty; scope and criteria of weapons covered under the treaty; implementation including national authority and systems,; record-keeping and transparency; international cooperation and victims’ assistance; an implementation support unit (ISU); and final provisions. A general consensus has not been reached on these elements and debate over what is to be included in a final ATT is anything but complete. However, as has been expressed by the Chair of the negotiations, Ambassador Roberto Garcia Moritán of Argentina, the preparatory committee groundwork has run its course, paving the way for negotiations next July over final status treaty language. It is time to prepare for the final negotiating stage.

By Katherine Prizeman | Global Action to Prevent War

Delegates are encouraged to take the opportunity at this 66th session of the UN General Assembly First Committee to clarify and reinforce their commitment to a robust and comprehensive treaty that will ultimately provide the best possible protection against illicit trade in conventional weapons that can lead to criminality, corruption, human rights abuses, violations of international humanitarian law, atrocity crimes, violence against women, and the suppression of women’s participation in public and political life.

Ambassador Moritán provided a Chair’s draft paper during the final days of July’s preparatory meeting. The paper is quite exhaustive and invites a broad and inclusive discussion among states. The draft paper is ambitious, as it includes a scope that covers small arms and light weapons, technology, part and components, ammunition, as well as references victims’ assistance and international cooperation. Ambassador Moritán took a rather bold step forward in the hopes of laying the groundwork for final treaty language. It is now up to member states to provide the nuance necessary for turning a sprawling list of provisions into a coherent and forceful treaty. Ambassador Moritán’s paper provides a comprehensive strategy for a robust ATT that should be utilized as a starting point for next’s year negotiations.

When referring to a future ATT, it is important to identify and underscore three issue areas that need to be addressed as a final treaty begins to take shape—diversion, implementation, and regional cooperation. In light of this year’s upcoming First Committee discussion, we encourage all member states to consider these issues in a broad context of peace and security concerns as well as their collateral consequences.

Reference to and the emphasizing of the issue of diversion is critical. Curbing the illicit arms trade requires special attention to the practice of diverting arms from legal consumers of conventional weapons to non-state and unauthorized parties who may use such weapons for criminal, corrupt, and abusive purposes. It is often in this indirect manner that the arms trade becomes a lethal and harmful practice. It is generally accepted that diversion is the root cause of alarm for the arms trade. Even those member states that vigorously contend that any ATT should neither encroach on territorial sovereignty nor limit the ability of states to conduct arms transfers through excessive international interference cannot argue against the dangers of diversion. As such, we encourage states to address diversion in formulating a robust treaty that sufficiently protects against this risk.

The second issue we call attention to is implementation. It is essential that negotiations on an ATT are forward looking and decide upon a structure for implementation once a treaty has been adopted. Adequate implementation of an ATT, no matter the final scope and parameters of such a treaty, will likely remain a concern at review sessions beyond the time of formal ratification. Nevertheless, at this time, we encourage member states to look realistically at the challenges that lay ahead for implementers. A litany of national challenges will arise once a treaty is penned, including promoting community participation and local buy-in through sustainable local interaction between the government and local authorities; building reconciliation and trust between communities and local security forces implementing the treaty provisions; building local institutional capacity such as border control and arms policing; allocating appropriate funding for an international secretariat, Implementation Support Unit, or other structure, as well as funding for local training and institution building. There is no obvious, existing mechanism that exists to coordinate such a logistical behemoth—coordination that has considerable legal, political, and technical aspects. However, it is undeniable that some structure must exist to put into practice the provisions of tracing international transfers and, most importantly, flagging those that are deemed questionable and ultimately illicit. We recommend, at a minimum, the establishment of an ISU to perform such monitoring.

However, as Reaching Critical Will noted during the July preparatory committee: if the ISU is to be hosted by the United Nations, the ISU’s mandate to facilitate implementation of the ATT should by no means detract from the UN’s core role in promoting disarmament and the effective regulation of armaments. As many delegations have said time and again, the ATT should be viewed as a floor, not a ceiling, for the regulation of the arms trade. States should be encouraged to adopt stricter standards. Any ATT must not be used as an excuse for the UN to limit or curtail its advocacy for more effective regulation and the strengthened application of international humanitarian and human rights law. Such a role may be especially important, especially if that treaty turns out to not be as robust as the majority of member states would like.

Thirdly, it is clear from the aforementioned implementation challenges that capacity-building will become a necessary part of the ATT process. It is necessary, then, to incorporate a great deal of regional and sub-regional collaboration to address some of these issues—most especially building local capacities for border control, arms policing, and other aspects directly related to regional and local buy-in. Regional organizations and economic blocs are in an advantageous position to address many of these implementation challenges of coordination, which are often endemic to individual regions. A legal structure in an ATT must be buttressed by sufficient regional support making implementation both manageable and effective.

We encourage member states to reference the ATT in light of this October’s First Committee discussions on disarmament as it fits into the broader goal of a more peaceful and secure world. The ATT cannot and should not be negotiated in a diplomatic silo. We encourage member states to seek a harmonization of purpose to fuse the two objectives of a future ATT—regulating the business of trade in conventional weapons as well as making a normative statement on an industry where many of its products have been found in the illicit market prompting devastating insecurity across regions.

As advocated by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the world demands “general and complete disarmament in all its aspects,” which reinforces the importance of not only nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, but equally important, conventional weapon disarmament and arms control. And although nuclear issues receive the lion’s share of attention at the First Committee, we recognize that conventional weapons, in being used around the world every day, are truly the ‘weapons of mass destruction.’