25 March 2013
Press Conference

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

press Conference by Civil Society Experts on Arms Trade Treaty


With only four days left to conclude a strong, robust instrument, the President of the Final United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty should not succumb to pressure from major weapons exporters seeking to weaken its provisions, civil society representatives said at a Headquarters press conference today.


“Frankly, after years of negotiations, we don’t really believe that this is the best diplomats can deliver,” said Allison Pytlak, Campaign Manager of the Control Arms Coalition, of the second draft presented by the Conference President on Friday.  The range of weapons covered in the draft was now narrower than in the previous versions, and ammunition was still poorly covered, she added.


The criteria for assessing whether or not to go ahead with arms transfers remained too weak, she continued, recalling that Oxfam and Saferworld, two members of the global Control Arms Network, had released a new report three weeks ago entitled “Getting it Right”.  It identified 10 loopholes that an arms trade treaty must address in order to be effective.  “Unfortunately, here we are, half way through the Conference and at the start of the second week, none of these loopholes have yet been resolved,” said Ms. Pytlak.


Accompanying her at the press conference, sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Mexico to the United Nations, were Juan Manuel Gómez-Robledo, that country’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights; Anna MacDonald, Head of Control Arms–Oxfam; Baffour D. Amoa, President of the West African Action Network on Small Arms; and Jonathan Frerichs, Programme Executive at the World Council of Churches in Geneva.


Ms. MacDonald expressed disappointment with the new draft, saying “this is not the treaty [for which] we have been campaigning for 10 years, and this is not the treaty that is going to save lives and protect people”.  The loopholes must be closed, and the Conference President must listen to the voices of the majority, she emphasized.  The draft must be comprehensive in the scope of weapons it covered and set tough, clear rules by which Governments could assess whether or not to authorize an arms transfer.


“We are concerned that there is too much talk of consensus and talk of the need to agree with and accommodate the views of very sceptical States who will not sign this treaty or who will not engage constructively in the talks,” she said.  The treaty should not be written by Syria, but by the many Governments around the world that wished to see the arms trade brought under control, she added.  It must reflect the needs of Africa, Latin America and other parts of the world significantly affected by conflict and armed violence.


“We are calling on the President now and in the last few days to make a clear choice,” she added.  “It’s either about listening to the will of the majority or about accommodating the views of the sceptics.”  Now was the time to stand up for what was right, not what was easy in terms of fixes and compromises in the text.


She said the treaty should cover every aspect of arms transfer chain, not just exports, and it must also apply to gifts, loans and leases.  The “criteria” section, which was now called “export assessment”, had to be strengthened.  The “prohibitions” section had made progress as the draft now prohibited transfers when the exporters had knowledge, rather than intent, that the weapons would be used to commit war crimes, she said.  But, that still only applied to war crimes, not human rights violations, which must also be included, she added.


Ms. MacDonald also pointed out that in order to stop a transfer, there must be “overriding risk” of arms being used in violations of human rights and humanitarian law.  She had heard most Governments say that threshold was too high.  Only one Government wanted to keep it.  “It’s clear what the President should do in that case — listen to the majority,” she said.


On the “implementation” section, she stressed the need for mandating public reporting and clear provisions for implementation at a national level.  She also called for a revision to the amendment clause requiring consensus, saying that it “could lead to the same sort of situation we are seeing in the conference now, where it’s difficult to achieve a decision or progress”.  That needed to be changed to a two-thirds majority to allow the possibility of it to evolve as new weapons systems developed and new types of situations came into play.


Mr. Amoa said no region needed a strong, robust arms trade treaty more than Africa.  Article 2 of the draft treaty must be strengthened to make it more inclusive in scope.  On the “Parts and Components” section, he said a provision touching on the capability to “assemble” was too narrow, and should be widened to include the capability to “maintain”.  Article 5.4 did not take into account the possibility of any future amendment to the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms, he noted, stressing that the definition of transfer should include all types of transfers.


Mr. Frerichs said the text must “strike a difficult balance between being a producers’ treaty and a people’s treaty”.  So far, with four days to go, it looked much more like a producers’ and exporters’ treaty.  “This will be a historic treaty whether it intends to be or not,” he added, cautioning, however, that “a so-so status quo treaty will in fact be a serious and highly avoidable failure”.


He noted that after 60 years of the United Nations Charter’s existence, there was a chance to put new life into its much-valued, but little-observed, article requesting the diversion of the least amount of resources necessary to national security and national defence.  Pointing out that shipments of deadly weapons were less scrutinized than cargoes of bananas, he declared:  “When we have drones, hand grenades, armed vehicles and military transport aircraft not covered in the treaty meant to regulate the arms trade, you know something is not right.”


Mr. Gómez-Robledo stressed the importance of civil society’s engagement in the arms trade treaty talks, explaining that its growing direct participation at the United Nations had given it an essential role in promoting human rights.  But, when it came to arms control issues, it was more difficult to allow involvement by non-governmental organizations, he said.  Mexico valued the participation of civil society, which brought new perspectives and put proposals on the table, he added.


Asked whether the draft treaty included the obligation of public reporting, Ms. MacDonald said it was not mandated yet, and it was up to the President to make that choice.


When asked if it was possible the that no treaty would be concluded, she said operative paragraph 7 of the General Assembly resolution on an arms trade treaty gave the Conference President the power to take his text to the 193-nation body.  If sceptical countries blocked consensus or essential changes, it would be much better for Governments to take the option of agreeing the treaty by vote.  The General Assembly had reserved a slot on 2 April for that “back-up” plan, she said.


Asked about a treaty’s potential impact on existing defence agreements and similar future accords, Ms. MacDonald deplored France’s support for the so-called “Indian clause”, set forth by India, as damaging to the treaty.


Pressed further about a possible action in the General Assembly, Ms. MacDonald said a treaty could be adopted by a majority vote but a two-thirds majority would make it stronger.  In fact, 153 nations had consistently voted in favour of arms-treaty resolutions, she said, pointing out that major arms exporters, such as Germany and the United Kingdom, as well as emerging ones, like Mexico, South Africa and Brazil, had joined statements for a strong, robust treaty.


When asked which countries were to blame for narrowing the scope of weapons covered by the treaty, Ms. MacDonald said pressure was coming from the United States.


Asked about the impact of the arms trade treaty on the United States, she stressed that the aim was to control the international flow of arms, not the flow within the United States.


Mr. Frerichs said there was little truth in what had been said by gun lobbyists linking an arms trade treaty and the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.


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For information media • not an official record