States make “big step” towards an #ArmsTreaty

March 5 2011, 9:06 AM  by Øistein Thorsen
States make “big step” towards an Arms Trade TreatyBaffour Amoa, spokesperson for the Control Arms Coalition said:“This week, governments took a big step towards the establishment of a robust treaty to regulate the international arms trade. Despite serious efforts by some states to derail or weaken the process, we are now beginning to see a principled treaty take shape.

“Events in the Middle East and North Africa have reminded governments that they cannot continue to operate like in the old days. They have a responsibility to ensure that any weapon, ammunition or equipment will not be used against innocent civilians. The Arms Trade Treaty under negotiations will ensure this by requiring governments to refuse transfers of conventional arms if there is a substantial risk of serious human rights violations, war crimes or terrorist acts.

“We have to keep up the pressure on States until the next round of negotiations in July 2011 to make sure they come prepared and willing to agree strong provisions on the implementation of the treaty.”


Q&A on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)

Recent developments

What has been achieved this week (March 2011)? Any significant movement on the Text?

Draft rules proposed to underpin the treaty are reflected in a paper by Chairman Ambassador Roberto Garcia Moritan and include the criteria for making decisions on international arms transfers, and also what arms should be included in the scope of the Treaty. 
The draft papers reflect the view of most States that, when the treaty is established, it should regulate the transfers of a wide range of conventional arms including tanks, missiles, artillery, small arms, light weapons, munitions and military vehicles, aircraft and helicopters.

NGOs welcome the support from States around the world for an ATT that will prevent arms transfers that undermine the recipient country’s development. It is important for States to seize the opportunity that the ATT presents to develop an instrument that brings together humanitarian, human rights, and poverty reduction efforts with trade regulation. What NGOs are arguing is that States shall not authorise transfer of conventional arms if there is a substantial risk that those conventional arms would seriously impair poverty reduction and socio-economic development or seriously hamper the sustainable development of the recipient state. That part of the draft is comprehensive in its reach andexplicit recognition of the wide-ranging impacts of the arms trade on development and poverty reduction.  

What do you see as a worrying trend in the negotiations?

While many states have been supportive of a broad range of arms to be regulated for international transfers in the scope of an ATT, some European and North American states have recently been backtracking on some arms.  

For example, the United States and Canada have raised questions about the viability of including transfers of technology in the Treaty because of concerns about putting restrictions on dual-use goods (i.e night-vision goggles or technology to guided-missiles). 
Another key problem in the existing draft highlighted by the Control Arms alliance (also by visiting retired generals from Pakistan and France as well as an ex-UK police officer)  is the absence of controls on non-military weapons, munitions and armaments used by internal security forces – as shown in the latest brutal human rights crackdown in North Africa and the Middle East.

Which States made the most progress? Were Arab States a factor this week in terms of bringing fresh support to an ATT?

Bahrain, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, for the first time acknowledged the importance of human rights and the fact that conventional weapons have been used for the killing of civilians and the destruction of homes in its region. However, they also expressed concern that if there is a strict human rights rule to govern decisions of arms transfers it could be politicised. Russia, China and Pakistan were amongst a few other states expressing reservations about rules based on international human rights and humanitarian law.

At the moment, the draft text for the ATT contains two rules requiring States to not authorise transfers of arms if there is a substantial risk that the arms would “be used to commit or facilitate serious violations” of international humanitarian law or international human rights law.

What’s the Chinese position now? 
Many have been waiting for China, a significant arms exporter and one of the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council, to reveal its position on the ATT. This week they expressed cautious support for the inclusion of human rights, as long as it will not be used politically and only apply to the specific conventions each country has signed up.

Furthermore, China came out strongly against the inclusion of small arms and light weapons in the ATT, arguing that any expansion of scope beyond the 7 categories in the UN Conventional Arms Register (UNCAR) should be viewed with extreme caution. This is extremely concerning, given China’s expanding influence in Africa, where small arms and light weapons are the weapon of choice in most of the deadly conflicts ravaging the continent.

Their position was countered by detailed interventions from across the world – including many African states, the European Union, Australia and New Zealand, Asian, Caribbean and Central and South America States – reinforcing their support for a treaty including small arms, light weapons and all types of ammunition.

The Treaty will be agreed “by consensus” – Is this an issue right now in the talks? What about later? 

Many States mentioned in their interventions that they feel reassured by the process due to the consensus rule. While this has not been an issue during the Prep Com, it could be a problem during the final negotiating conference in 2012 as it could give every country the power of veto.

We must be vigilant so as to prevent a small minority from potentially crushing the aspirations of the majority of States for a robust ATT.