Nobody said it would be easy

March 14 2011, 7:09 AM  by Øistein Thorsen

The international community has failed the Libyan people. More

specifically, international arms control agreements – or the lack
thereof – have failed entire societies in North Africa and the Middle
East in recent weeks. Those events have proven the extreme urgency of
having robust legally-binding controls on the international trade of
all conventional arms and their ammunition.Posted by Daniel Mack, Instituto Sou da Paz

It is not often that draft papers in the expansive basements of the UN
have such clear, and raw, connection to real life, current events.
This week, during the ATT PrepCom, the horrible images of violence
across an entire region were in the minds of civil society and
governments alike, wondering how the arms – including internal
security equipment – could have been legally exported to a regime that
would use such disproportionate force on its own citizens.

Had a robust and effective ATT already existed, it is quite possible
that families across that region would not be mourning the loss of so
many non-violent protesters, who were demanding nothing but basic
human freedoms when brutally murdered or injured. In this sense, any
possible delays to the ATT process are utterly unacceptable; 2012 is
already too late for too many.

To deliver on its promise as an instrument with “teeth” that can save
lives and prevent such future massacres the treaty’s language and
implementation mechanisms must be very strong. Of course, strong and
effective treaty text is not easy to develop, let alone to agree and
eventually implement. Nothing worthwhile is easy.

This week, we have heard a few states concerned about treaty aspects
that would be “burdensome” to report on or “difficult” to implement. I
must say, if I used such retorts when asked to perform a complex but
clearly feasible task, I would be in trouble with my boss. The
ultimate bosses of civil society and governments – the citizens of our
countries – surely would agree: a robust ATT will be difficult to
construct, but is the only acceptable option.

Will the logistics and efforts needed to monitor post-export control
and tracking of small arms ammunition be complex? Yes, of course. Is
it impossible in all cases? Absolutely not. And before the proverbial
baby is chucked with the bathwater, it may be salutary to focus on the
fact that a case-by-case export control assessment on whether to sell
ammunition, with strong criteria, is among the easiest decisions to
take. If the issue is to fail during negotiations on implementation,
it must be after herculean efforts by all, not by giving up early.

Attempting to establish strong language is a first step for such
efforts. For example, language in an introductory paragraph of the
parameters will serve no humanitarian effect whatsoever in the
formulation supported by some countries. The triple weakening of
“should”, “as appropriate” and “take into consideration” amounts to a
“feel free to ignore” formula that would allow any case-by-case risk
assessment to approve any transfer – no matter how dire the human
rights, development or systemic violence situation the arms would flow
into.

As these terms and other normally “cold” technical concepts were
brought to life during the week, as we all relate the very real
implications of their definitions and applications, we must ensure
that the entirety of the ATT text, and its implementation mechanisms,
protect people like those who in the last several weeks have been
failed by us all.

Posted by Daniel Mack, Instituto Sou da Paz