Arms Trade Treaty Conference Yields Composite ‘Working Document’, Prompting Nearly 60 Speakers to Consider Viability, Probable Impact

from UN Disarmament Commission
Published on 24 Jul 2012 View Original


United Nations Conference
on the Arms Trade Treaty
12th & 13th Meetings (AM & PM)

In what was seen as a major breakthrough in negotiations at the ongoing United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, delegates today received their first comprehensive paper from the Conference President containing elements to be incorporated into a legally binding text, and came together to discuss it in plenary after many informal meetings that lasted into the night and throughout the weekend.

Conference President Roberto Garcia Moritan of Argentina said that the 12-page paper would make it possible for delegates to analyze, from the same perspective, the various aspects to be covered by the treaty.

The paper contains possible language for the 25 articles of the proposed Treaty in addition to a preamble and principles. The articles cover such areas as goals and objectives; scope, prohibited transfers; national assessment; additional obligations; general implementation; export; import; brokering; and transit and transhipment, and, among others, transparency.

Calling it “a working document”, Mr. Moritan reminded delegations that much negotiation remained to fulfil the objective of producing a treaty text, the goal of which, according to the General Assembly resolution — 64/48 — that launched the process, was to achieve a “legally binding instrument on the highest possible common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms”.

In the discussion involving nearly 60 speakers, delegates commended the President for putting together a document, which some called “pragmatic and realistic”, having taken some proposals on board, and either modified or abandoned others. On the positive side, the text was seen as an opportunity for delegations to make progress in the remaining “21 hours” before the conclusion of the Conference on 27 July, a “serious basis” for negotiations, even “implementable”.

The representative of the United Kingdom, whose delegation had been among the seven original co-sponsors of resolution 64/48, said the text moved the international community closer to achieving a strong Treaty. Several speakers, including the delegate from Pakistan, agreed it was a good basis on which to begin “real negotiations”; it was time now to “deepen clarity, bridge divisions, and craft clearer treaty language”. Japan welcomed the “much awaited” text and its “many positive elements”, but felt that some important points were missing. For example, he wanted to see the widest scope of arms as well as enhanced transparency in international arms transfers.

France’s delegation also felt talks had advanced “considerably”, but stressed the imperative of having a scope of application that included all conventional weapons, including small arms and light weapons, as well as munitions — otherwise, the delegate said, “the treaty will not make sense”. Speaking on behalf of member States of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Côte d’Ivoire’s representative expressed concern about the “disappearance” of ammunition and munitions from the text, adding that ECOWAS members would not support a treaty that did not include that.

Similar sentiments were expressed by many other representatives, including from Liberia, Nigeria, Mali, Uganda, Uruguay, Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger, Morocco, Sierra Leone, and Kenya, who held that guns and other equipment were mere delivery systems, which were not very harmful without their ammunition. They warned an arms trade treaty that excluded munitions would be “debilitated”.

Mexico’s representative also worried that the treaty’s scope was “clearly limited”; it was not possible to talk about an arms trade convention and omit munitions. Australia’s representative agreed. The representative of Zambia said ammunition removal was like cooking without water.

With additional hard work, declared the United States’ representative, the text had the “potential to be a treaty that was both ambitious and realistic” and reflected the concerns of the States represented here, including his country. His delegation’s primary concern, however, was the reference to munitions, as it continued to believe that that did not belong in the treaty. Other areas that required his delegation’s further scrutiny included export and import, and transhipment. He concluded that any amendments to the treaty should be adopted by consensus, as should the treaty itself.

The representative of China rejected the use of an arms trade treaty to interfere in a country’s internal affairs, saying, “if non-interference is not accepted as one of the principles or criteria in this draft, then we will not agree to any mention of international humanitarian or international human rights law”, a point on which he felt his delegation had been quite flexible. As for the question of munitions, there was “a serious degree of disagreement and it’s very difficult to reach consensus now”. In order to save time, Member States “should abandon that particular effort”.

Some delegations, including that of Brazil, complained that new controversial elements had been included in the President’s paper although no such elements had been proposed during preparatory discussions. Many paragraphs that did not command consensus had been retained, while others, proposed by countries, and not opposed by anybody, had been deleted. Those had dealt with such principles as territorial integrity, non-aggression, non-interference, and non-use of force. Even the inherent right of States to produce, import and export conventional arms had also been deleted from the text. In addition, those delegates said, the text exempted the transfer of arms for troops of countries outside their territories even though it was known that such arms were used for aggression and invasion.

The representative of Iran said that the paper had not been the product of transparent negotiations and did not fully reflect discussions in the two main committees of the Conference, particularly with regard to the preamble, scope and criteria sections. Repeated calls by many delegations for inclusion of the views of participating States had either been overlooked or deliberately ignored and the two main committees had fallen short of holding real negotiations. The representative of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine said the right of peoples to self-determination should be included in the treaty.

The Conference had earlier observed a minute of silence in honour of President John Atta Mills of Ghana who died earlier in the day.

A further meeting is planned for tomorrow, 25 July.

For information media • not an official record