The Litmus Test for a Robust #Armstreaty

February 13 2012, 1:39 PM by Ray Acheson

As of the beginning of February, the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)
negotiations in July have an inescapable litmus test: to undoubtedly
prevent, under international law, the transfer of arms and ammunition
to a regime in the midst of killing thousands of its own people.
Incredibly, the enforcement of this seemingly obvious restraint has
not been achieved by the Security Council, nor the UN in general,
after the overwhelming majority of countries strived in vain for an
agreement to stop the senseless bloodshed, ultimately unable to
influence a shocking unilateral national decision.

by Daniel Mack, Instituto Sou da Paz, Brazil

This bare-minimum, of course, is only one of several basic thresholds
the ATT must overcome to have significant real-life impact. Another
threshold is the need to include in the treaty’s scope all
conventional weapons and their ammunition, including internal security
equipment often used in repression, and all transfers, not only
exports. Also, introducing strong decision-making human rights and
international humanitarian law (IHL) criteria with a “shall not”
clause is vitally important—“taking into account” could be ignored by
the very cynic, even in cases of substantial risk of serious
violations. To make sure the ATT is effective, mandatory annual
national reports should be comprehensive and public, allowing civil
society to monitor implementation.

We can draw some lessons from these tragic developments, and the
international community’s current inability to address them, as the
final preparatory committee (PrepCom)’s discussions focus on the rules
of procedure for the negotiations in July. First, it has become
painfully clear that a handful of countries do not want any real
controls on the arms trade. This should inform the discussions
regarding “consensus”. In other fora, consensus has been used as a
veto by individual countries, which has had tragic humanitarian
consequences in a body with 15 members. Imagine the pitfalls in a body
of 193 members. The wishes of the overwhelming majority of
countries—and their citizens—must be protected from the callous
humanitarian indifference of the very few.

It is precisely those citizens that the ATT must be designed to
protect. Therefore, the ATT negotiating conference must faithfully
follow the “open and transparent” prescription from the 2009 General
Assembly resolution, and allow full participation of those that have
been constructive partners for years but whose demands are not guided
by national interests. Allowing civil society as observers in all
sessions of the negotiating conference will ensure the legitimacy and
transparency of the future ATT, bringing both technical expertise and
the views from those affected by irresponsible arms transfers. Even if
the people of certain nations are not represented in these halls, they
should be defended nonetheless.

Finally, the fiasco in the UN Security Council also points to the fact
that the ATT negotiations will be immensely difficult, and the time
available (barely 20 days) is quite short considering the task of
negotiating a robust ATT. As such, it is essential that the
international community does not squander the enormous efforts
expended since 2006—it should make good use, as a basis for
negotiations, of the “Chairman’s paper”. This document, while
imperfect, offers the only comprehensive cornerstone available to
build a strong ATT upon. The international community cannot afford
reverting to a clean slate.

The recent deadlock at the Security Council clearly proves the urgency
and necessity for a robust ATT. As an official from the arms exporting
nation in the case mentioned above bluntly put it, “we are not
violating any international obligations”. It is time to change
that—and make such immoral deals illegal.