What is the ATT For?

July 16 2010, 10:09 AM  by Øistein Thorsen, Oxfam
The discussion of principles and purposes of an ATT demands having the proper shared answer to the basic question: “what is the ATT for?” There is only one good answer: to diminish the human cost of the poorly regulated arms trade. Every year, thousands of people are killed, injured, raped, and forced to flee from their homes as a result of irresponsible arms transfers. The poorly regulated global trade in conventional arms and ammunition fuels conflict, poverty, armed crime, terrorism, gender-based violence and human rights abuses.by Daniel Mack, Instituto Sou da Paz, Brazil (this blog was presented to the formal ATT Prep Com on July 16th, 2010)

We need a treaty that makes a difference on the ground, with real impact in affected communities. There is an overwhelming humanitarian imperative that must be realized. Anything else will be a betrayal of the treaty’s purpose and promise. The ATT must focus on human security, not only national security – protecting people in addition to States. Unfortunately, while the presented paper on draft principles has many items to make Member-States comfortable, it has very little to keep their citizens safe.

There is no value in having a weak ATT just to ensure that all can sign it – or for the perfunctory sake of concluding a diplomatic exercise. The worst case scenario would be to move slowly and ultimately accommodate all views – no matter how out of touch with the overwhelming sense of the international community – into a “lowest common denominator” that could be ratified by all states but would make none of their citizens safer.

Rather, the ATT should aim to raise national standards globally, so even countries unable to subscribe to a strong legally-binding instrument at first would eventually sign, ratify and implement a treaty that actually saves lives. Thus, the principles of the ATT must acknowledge that irresponsible transfers of conventional arms and ammunition contribute to serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law – as well as provoke or prolong armed conflict and violence, the displacement of people, corruption, organized crime, terrorist acts and undermine poverty-reduction efforts.

The ATT must also respect the sense of urgency demanded by those who live in fear, have lost a loved one or were condemned to serve a life sentence as “victim” of armed violence. Millions of potential victims cannot afford to wait for a protracted diplomatic process, or one that yields a toothless instrument. 

Respecting this urgency is also pragmatic. At this very moment 24 of the 120 working hours of the PrepCom have already passed – 20% of the PrepCom is already over. While we commend the “let’s get down to business” approach demonstrated by the presentation of draft elements and principles, we believe that to conclude with a meaningful output the efforts and pace must be even stronger.

Supporter governments need to be proactive in order to achieve a meaningful ATT. Even if overwhelming in numbers, a silent majority of governments will not deliver the ATT the world needs. Governments truly concerned with human security are called to muster the political will, be more vocal and become cohesive. They cannot allow the few unconvinced states to dominate the debate, giving the impression that their positions are common in the international community. They are not. Supportive states should ensure the world knows their positions are the common ones, supported by the vast majority of countries – and the overwhelming majority of their citizens.

This is a historical opportunity: states need to strive for the opposite of “simple” and “pragmatic” heard a few times in this room. We can’t be satisfied with more of the same. Let us attempt to deliver something of importance.

To do so, the treaty must be drafted with clear and strong language – as even comprehensive scope and robust criteria can be rendered irrelevant by wording such as “taking into account” or “wherever possible” – diplomatic-speak for “feel free to ignore”. Rather, provisions should be, for example, “shall not authorize if there is substantial risk of serious violations” or similar wording. There is no reason to fear this clarity: the ATT will be a preventive not than a punitive instrument – one that would require states to suspend particular transfers when an objective case-by-case analysis by national authorities decides there is a strong possibility the arms will be used for serious violations. It should not be an instrument that would ban states from receiving any conventional arms and ammunition because of isolated incidents.

Moreover, to seize this historical opportunity, we urge the PrepCom to follow the prescription of the resolution that guides it, in which 153 states recognize that the process must be undertaken in an “open and transparent manner”.  We understand that closing doors at times will be necessary to reach the “strong and robust treaty” mandated by the resolution. However, creating such an early precedent in which six sessions are conducted behind closed doors is damaging to the very objective of the exercise.

To be clear: the issue is not civil society presence in the room out of a sense of entitlement or self-importance, but rather from a need to be able to bring to this discussion the knowledge, capacity, and expertise of colleagues working in this field for years, as well as the testimony of several of them who often witness – or have suffered – the consequences of irresponsible arms transfers.

The overall quality of the ATT depends on respecting its purpose. To respect its purpose, it must consider the widest range of views possible, in particular the voices and experiences of those it will be designed to protect, also essential for the legitimacy of the resulting treaty. Civil society gathered in the global Control Arms coalition is committed to a principled and robust ATT, and vow to work as constructive critics and partners of States.

Agreeing these essential principles and purposes from the start will make all later discussions easier. On all issues of substance, whether within “scope”, “parameters” or “implementation”, decision-making should always be guided by the principled answer to the initial question (“what is the ATT for?”): it is for diminishing the human cost of the poorly regulated trade in arms and ammunition. This is a chance for all involved to make history. The cost of failure would be counted in lives.

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