We’ve Waited Long Enough-It’s Time for an ATT

July 19 2010, 9:04 AM  by Øistein Thorsen

We have waited a long time for this Prepcom. More than 20 years ago, the president of Costa Rica Oscar Arias called for global rules on the international arms trade. A group of NGOs took up the idea and in 2003 the Control Arms campaign was launched. For three years we campaigned from outside the United Nations. In 2006 we delivered a petition to the UN Secretary General, on behalf of one million people demanding an Arms Trade Treaty. In that year our hard work paid off – the General Assembly voted to begin the ATT process.

By Rebecca Peters, Director of IANSA. (This blog was delivered as a speech in Spanish to the ATT Prep Com at the UN, July 16th).

So for the past 4 years, the process has been within the UN. What began as a civil society campaign had become a shared responsibility with Member States. A good example of this partnership has been the participation of local and regional civil society in the meetings organised by UNIDIR.

You the States have the power to bring about an ATT. We as civil society have the ability to inform the process, to suggest ideas and examples, to do research and identify what works and what doesn’t. We have the right to lobby and communicate with you, and you have the right to expect accuracy and integrity from us.

Most of all we have the responsibility to bring into these discussions the voices and perspectives of people and communities who are suffering the consequences of irresponsible arms transfers – arms transfers that should not have been authorised, arms transfers that should have been stopped. This is why we are here, to create an international treaty that will stop the transfer of weapons which are likely to be misused, whether by the initial recipient or further down the line.

When I say ‘likely to be misused’, I am thinking of one of our members whose sister and her husband were among a group of civilians murdered by non-state actors – with guns which had been diverted from a transfer originally made from a European country.

I am thinking of another IANSA member whose family was forced out of their home by soldiers of a government with a long record of violations of international law. Their guns had also been supplied by a rich country. That family ended up as displaced persons – part of the vast and growing international statistic whose primary reason for displacement is armed violence.  

These examples from our membership are not unique. All three exemplify patterns of behaviour that could be characterised, if they were ever investigated, as serious violations of international human rights, or grave breaches of international humanitarian law. But of course, like the vast majority of violations, these cases have never been investigated and therefore will never be punished.

And even if, by some miracle, the perpetrators were punished, that would not repair the damage that has been done to the victims. Though it is too late now to repair damage done in the past, it is not late to prevent further harm being done in the future.

We recognise the immense amount of work that the Chair and his colleagues have invested in this process. We appreciate the Draft principles document, which gives us a starting point in terms of text.

This document is basically a draft of the preamble, and the preamble should say why the treaty is necessary. Unfortunately Tuesday’s draft omits some of most important reasons why we need an ATT. That reason is this: because the absence of commonly agreed international standards on arms transfers is contributing to serious violations of international human rights law, grave breaches of international humanitarian law, gender-based armed violence, and is undermining poverty-reduction goals.

It is not sufficient for the ATT principles to simply reaffirm ‘respect’ for these bodies of law. States must also reaffirm the ‘obligations’ that they have undertaken. Those obligations, we contend, include the obligation to interrupt a proposed arms transfer if it would contribute to serious violations of international human rights or grave breaches of international humanitarian law.

This is the last time I will address you in the UN as the Director of IANSA. I will soon be leaving my post after 8 years leading the global campaign against gun violence. IANSA was created at the same time as the UN small arms process, and it has developed in parallel with that process – and of course, with the ATT process too.  

IANSA members constitute the vast majority of the Control Arms campaign for an ATT. That campaign is transforming now into a much stronger and broader coalition, and you can expect to feel its presence more strongly than ever as we approach the 2012 negotiating conference.   

By the way, although you may get the feeling that you always meet the same handful of Control Arms campaigners in New York, I can assure you that this is the tip of the iceberg. The bulk of the advocacy, lobbying, public awareness, community organising, media outreach and capacity building work is being done by our members on the ground, in the countries most affected by the irresponsible transfer, proliferation and use of arms. 

It has been a privilege for me to lead this movement and to work not only with such dedicated colleagues in civil society, but also with State representatives who share our goals – and also those whose goals may differ from ours, but who have always been prepared to listen and engage with us constructively. I am confident that this constructive engagement will continue in the next phase of the Control Arms campaign 

I want to thank the Member States for their support of IANSA, our members and staff, and for me personally over the years. 

Finally, I want to thank Amb Moritan and also the officers of the UN ODA, UNDP, UNIDIR, UNICEF, and the other international and regional organisations which have demonstrated their commitment to reducing the devastating human and development consequences of the flood of guns around the world.

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