Last bend before the homestretch for the Arms Trade Treaty

Six years ago Oxfam celebrated a campaign victory when the UN voted to start work on an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). So why, you may ask, am I at the UN campaigning for an ATT this week? The short answer is that ‘things take time, especially at the UN’.

But to be fair, you can imagine how hard it is for 193 countries to all agree on standards for how to sell weapons to each other. The arms trade is a sensitive issue, it goes right to the heart of national security concerns and States’ right to self defense. After four days at the UN I’ve learnt they don’t take that right lightly. Throw in the mix that we are trying to regulate the trade in arms based on human rights, international humanitarian law, and commitments to the right to development, and you have a pretty stiff cocktail in your hands.

Another reason it has taken six years is that the work at the UN has gone through a variety of stages. The first resolution in 2006 called on all States to submit their views on the eventual treaty to the Secretary General. A record of more than 80 countries sent in their views. In parallel to this, Control Arms organized more than 100 “People’s Consultations” around the world where ordinary people shared their views on what the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) should include. This took two years.

The next step – in 2008 – was to set up what’s called a Group of Governmental Experts. This was a closed-door series of meetings for a year with experts from 22 countries. They didn’t agree much, apart from the need to keep the process going. So the following year UN agreed to start an Open Ended Working Group on the Arms Trade Treaty. This invited all states to participate in the conversation to discuss the scope, criteria and parameters of the eventual treaty – in other words what weapons to include and how to regulate them. After a year of this ‘open ended’ process they decided to give themselves a deadline – a diplomatic conference in July 2012 – and run four preparatory committees (Prep Com) to get ready for it. This week is the 4th of these meeting.

The result of these four meetings is what is called the Chair’s Draft Papers (pdf). These have been written by the chair of the process – Ambassador Moritan from Argentina – and is a reflection of the views expressed by all states. While there are some significant short-comings to the papers, they provide a pretty good outline of a relatively strong treaty. However, some countries disagree...

So where are we now?

In sports terms I’d say we’re now at the last bend before the homestretch. But first, States have to go through a rather painful process of agreeing the rules and decision-making process for the conference in July. So this week has been all about what “consensus” really means, to what extent NGOs will be able to participate and what the status of the Chair’s papers will be. These are quite dry issues, but important. Oxfam has been here providing detailed legal analysis to help States, as well as pressuring States to make sure that:

  • Consensus does not mean that every country has veto power
  • NGOs are allowed in the room to provide support and advise to States and reflect the voices of those most affected by the arms trade
  • The Chair’s papers become the basis of negotiations

Today (17 Feb) is the last day of this meeting and we’re expecting some fights. You can follow the discussions inside the UN on Twitter on the hashtag #armstreaty.

We’ll be pushing to the last minute to ensure the best possible outcome. But the real work starts when this week is over. Then we’ll have 4 months to mobilize people around the world to remind politicians why they started this process in the first place. Over 2000 people still die every day due to armed violence. Arms still end up in the wrong hands. Our leaders need to feel that it would not just be embarrassing, but a missed opportunity to make history, if they don’t agree a bulletproof treaty in July.

That’s where you come in. Join the campaign. Join the Control Arms Facebook group and get ready to help organize actions in your country. The final sprint is about to start!

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