9 July 2010
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Chair of Preparatory Committee for United Nations

 

Conference on Arms Trade Treaty

 


After years of protracted talks, the United Nations is finally set to begin intergovernmental negotiations next week on a legally binding treaty to regulate the sale of conventional arms and help keep them from ending up in the wrong hands, “a delicate and sensitive matter and at the same time, a very urgent one”, according to the Argentinean Ambassador who will chair the preparatory process.


“Questions surrounding the global weapons trade have been a priority since the creation of the League of Nations [and] Member States are now ready to begin the exercise that will set common guidelines for the sale, import and export of conventional arms,” Roberto García Moritán, Chairman of the Preparatory Committee for the United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, said today at a Headquarters press conference.


He said the negotiations on the elements of the long-in-gestation accord, which would govern the sale of fighter planes, unmanned aerial vehicles, missiles, and light weapons, among other arms, was set to begin on Monday, 12 July, and continue through 23 July, with the proposed treaty finally being adopted by a Conference of States Parties in 2012.  According to the Preparatory Committee’s agenda, Member States would consider “the elements that would be needed to attain an effective and balanced legally binding instrument on the highest possible common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms”.


The arms trade treaty would not contradict the United Nations Charter’s edict (Article 51) on the use or purchase of weapons for national defence, internal security or the Organization’s peace operations, he continued.  At the same time, even though only a handful of arms producers existed worldwide, some weapons were being traded according to unilateral priorities or being slipped into illicit markets for use in the repression of populations or even the destabilization of whole regions.


“So an arms trade treaty attempts to inject some sense of predictability into a complex and sensitive issue,” said Mr. García, emphasizing:  “At the end of the day, the idea is to try to have a set of common standards to be applied by all countries when they export or import weapons.”  While such an accord would not “solve all problems”, it would at least provide some guidelines for buying and importing States so that the arms could not be used to fuel events such as the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, where weapons had been sold even after the beginning of that civil conflict.


Responding to questions, he said he expected Member States to consider a range of “tough issues” over the next two weeks.  On “the very serious matter” of illicit trafficking, the proposed treaty might very well address the diversion of arms to drug cartels or gangs, rebels and other non-State actors, he said.  That would be a point of serious discussion.


He went on to say that the proposed treaty might target “totalitarian States” or human rights abusers.  As for groups that might be combatants in such States, negotiators would obviously discuss such a sensitive issue.  He voiced the opinion that many countries in the Latin America and Caribbean region, as well as some in Africa considered dealing with the illicit spread of small arms and light weapons a priority.


In response to another question, he stressed that an arms trade treaty held advantages for all countries.  “Once we get the ball rolling and begin work on the treaty, most Member States, even the most important producers, will see the advantage of a multilateral treaty,” he said.  The accord would not hinder the right to produce, export or import arms, but aimed to be an instrument that could be applied in cases where the export of weapons was not responsible.  “To have common international standards is one of the aims of this exercise,” he added.


One correspondent suggested that citing the Rwanda genocide was an “an easy out” because everyone would agree that weapons should not have been sold to combatants during that tragic event.  What about “murkier” cases like the Sudan, or others in which some “rebel” groups were considered “liberation fighters”? he asked.


Mr. García replied that, while the views of Member States might differ before a multilateral agreement was in place, once it became legally binding, their responses would be different when faced with common international standards.  “I wouldn’t be surprised if, when the treaty is in place, the situation of Sudan might be handled a little differently.”


As for those who defended the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, he said the purpose of the proposed arms trade treaty was not to disarm anyone, prohibit sales or hinder national decisions on how weapons were handled, but to ensure common international import and export standards.


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For information media • not an official record