The #ArmsTreaty Requires Full and Effective NGO Participation

October 24 2011, 8:50 AM  by Øistein Thorsen
A strong and effective Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) will help save lives, prevent human rights abuses, and protect the livelihoods of people around the world. This outcome can be achieved only by comprehensive and effective NGO participation throughout a transparent and accountable Treaty negotiation process.This article was prepared by members of the ATT Legal Response Network (ATT Legal) 

The benefits of full NGO involvement and participation are significant. The negotiation process is complex and underpinned by multi-tiered and competing interests. Effective NGO participation not only will bring public confidence to the process, but also will ensure timely identification of all issues. NGOs bring an invaluable expertise to the negotiating table. NGOs are the organisations dealing directly with the consequences of an irresponsible arms trade. Working both on the ground and on transnational levels, these organisations have available to them first-hand experience of affected communities, rehabilitation attempts and the humanitarian and social issues involved, as well as direct experience in implementing strategy. Their voice represents the witnesses, victims and individuals working with the consequences and human cost of the arms trade.

The 2009 General Assembly ATT Resolution recognised the crucial role of NGOs as a source of expert advice and in holding governments to account. This recognition is not without precedent. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was drafted with considerable input and assistance of NGOs. The International Criminal Court was established with high-level NGO involvement and participation.  The Convention on Cluster Munitions was adopted following NGO campaigns for the existence of a Treaty, their efforts during the ensuing negotiation process and finally within the implementation stage itself. The list can go on.

Over the last decade, NGOs have worked closely together to achieve their common goals in developing, ratifying and implementing treaties. In so doing, they provide an effective means of campaigning, creating public awareness and support, as well as vital information exchange. During the ‘Ottawa process’, the coalition of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (comprising of some 750-1000 organisations) was deeply embedded in the negotiation process that led to the successful drafting of the Mine Ban Treaty. The ICBL eventually won the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of its civil society efforts to achieve the Ban. The Framework Convention Alliance, comprised of some 350 organisations, now performs the role of watchdog for the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), having played a key role in obtaining a substantial number of signatories in record time. NGOs now have the right, as Observers, to participate and speak at meetings of the governing body of the FCTC and their involvement in the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body allows them to participate in drafting and negotiating a Protocol on Illicit Trade of Tobacco Products, as well as preparing proposals on issues identified in the Convention. Most recently, the climate change negotiations have seen NGOs take an active participatory role in the UN negotiations as Observers.

Today, there are established principles and precedent for comprehensive participation of NGOS throughout the UN system and within Treaty negotiations themselves, granting NGOs consultative and Observer status, enabling them to attend plenary and committee meetings, and to make oral and written statements, encouraging their participation in debates and allowing them to receive copies of official documents, address representatives and make comments on draft Conventions.

NGO participation increases the legitimacy of these ATT negotiations. Decisions made behind closed doors, without allowing effective participation from the organisations that work on the front line of the arms trade, will leave any future Treaty without a solid, informed and accountable foundation. Effective NGO participation is the key to a successful outcome.

ATT Legal is a network consisting of expert lawyers from around the world. ATT Legal supports the negotiations by providing free, real time legal advice during negotiating sessions, as well as longer-term advice and support to State parties and NGOs. If you are interested in joining the ATT Legal, please take a moment to fill out this form or contact the network attlegalreponse[at]gmail[dot]com