3 June 2013
Press Conference

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

Press Conference on Opening for Signature of Arms Trade Treaty


With only three Member States having opposed the Arms Trade Treaty, “we could not have achieved a stronger Treaty while maintaining the overwhelming level of support achieved”, the President of the Final United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty said as the instrument opened for signature today.


Peter Woolcott ( Australia) was responding to questions at a Headquarters press conference, and had been asked if the Treaty had the “kind of teeth you wanted it to have”.  Accompanying him were Angela Kane, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs; Christine Beerli, Permanent Vice-President of the International Committee of the Red Cross; Brian Wood, Head of Arms Control and Human Rights, Amnesty International; and Anna Macdonald, Head of Arms Control at Oxfam.


When asked whether the United States would ever ratify the instrument, Mr. Woolcott said that, if the United States signed the instrument, it would be obliged to play an important role in its implementation, even if it took its time about ratifying it.


Ms. Kane added that the process between signing and ratification was inherently political, particularly in the United States, which had little to do with merits of the Treaty and more to do with the particular political environment in the United States and in other countries.


Mr. Wood said there could be a focus on the Treaty’s “if only” aspects, but States parties would have opportunities to amend it.


Ms. Macdonald said it was all about creating a “new global norm”.  The Treaty would change the global arms trade and affect the behaviour of importers and exporters.  “All countries, whether they sign it or not, are going to be affected”, she said, adding that it would become automatically harder for non-signatories to continue to operate as they had before.


“A signature is only a signature when it’s actually on paper,” said Ms. Kane, calling on Member States that had not yet done so to sign, ratify and implement the Arms Trade Treaty.  Intended to monitor and control the trade in conventional weapons, the Treaty was the result of seven long years of negotiations and hard-fought consultations, Ms. Kane said.  Commending the 62 delegations that had signed the internationally binding instrument this morning, she welcomed those who had pledged to sign it in the afternoon and encouraged those who had indicated they would sign later in the week.


Describing today’s event as a “good start”, Mr. Woolcott said that, while the Treaty provided a strong framework for controlling the conventional arms trade, the real work would come with its implementation.  Now was the time to focus on getting the required 50 ratifications and implementing the Treaty so that it could make a real difference in people’s lives.  With 62 signatures already, there was widespread international support for the instrument, he said.


Ms. Beerli said what “really counts” was the Treaty’s implementation as quickly as possible, as it should make a difference in people’s lives “from now on, and not only in two or three years”If States signed but continued to transfer arms to various parties with a record of committing violations of humanitarian law, they would seriously undermine the Treaty’s credibility, she warned.


Mr. Wood said Amnesty International had developed its arms-transfers policies in 1984, in response to the “irresponsible arming” of Idi Amin in Uganda and the “unbridled” arming of different States in the Middle East.  Since then, Amnesty had demanded that the United Nations take up the issue and “put your political words” into a legally binding agreement.


“We were a small minority, sometimes laughed at,” he said, adding that, eventually, that minority had managed to get the issue taken up.  It was an “absolutely historic landmark” to have a treaty with rules prohibiting the transfer of weapons that would be used for crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes.  Also for the first time, States had to follow “golden rules” to ensure that the weapons traded had not been and would not be used to perpetrate serious violations of human rights.


Today proved that “change can happen”, Ms. Macdonald said, emphasizing that, with enough will and enough work and partnerships linking Governments, the United Nations and civil society, it was possible to achieve change on something seemingly as difficult and complicated as the arms trade.  “We have the words on the paper,” she said.  “Now we need action on the ground.”


When asked how States would be monitored in terms of implementing and advancing the Treaty’s provisions, Ms. Kane said its implementation facility would allow States to implement monitoring and reporting obligations.  “Transparency is the goal,” she said, adding that it was critical that States signing and ratifying the Treaty actually comply with its regulations.


Mr. Woolcott added that the instrument set up quite elaborate provisions and methods of accountability, transparency and reporting.  At the implementation stage, there would be a better picture of what was actually transpiring in terms of being able to hold States accountable in meeting their Treaty obligations.  Additionally, the first and subsequent meetings of States parties would play a role in assessing how other States implemented it.


Asked how the Treaty would help prevent “another Syria”, Mr. Woolcott said that, while it remained a sovereign decision of States to decide whether it should proceed with an export, they would be judged in relation to how they implemented the Treaty, he said, adding that the international community was equipped with better tools to critique such decisions.


Ms. Kane said the “crystal ball” on how to prevent another Syria was cloudy, but in terms of the work of the United Nations, the Treaty would create a more stable and secure environment.  It would also affect the implementation of arms embargoes.  For the first time, an arms treaty linked human rights violations and humanitarian law to the arms trade, which was critical for the protection of civilians.


Asked whether the Russian Federation and China, which had abstained from the vote, had indicated when they would be prepared to sign the Treaty, Mr. Woolcott said he was hopeful that major exporters would sign up as they played a highly constructive role in negotiations.  In addition, the Treaty attempted to accommodate their interests and concerns.


Mr. Wood said the Government of China was “looking positively” at the Treaty, and the Foreign Ministry did not have a problem with the text.  If the United States signed, China would be the “next door to open”.  The Russian Federation, however, was more sceptical, he said.  It was disappointing to see India abstain, as it was one of the largest conventional arms importers among developing countries.  What really mattered was impetus and momentum because, in order for the Treaty to function, a number of States must sign it, including major exporters and importers, as well as transit countries.


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For information media • not an official record