3 July 2012

Nuclear Issues Grab Headlines, but Conventional Arms Kill Daily, Secretary-General Tells Arms Trade Treaty Conference, Stalled for Two Days over Procedural Matters

3 July 2012
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

United Nations Conference

 on the Arms Trade Treaty

1st & 2nd Meetings (AM & PM)

Nuclear Issues Grab Headlines, but Conventional Arms Kill Daily, Secretary-General

Tells Arms Trade Treaty Conference, Stalled for Two Days over Procedural Matters

As Second Day Culminates in Resolution of Diplomatic Issues,

Delegations Begin Debate on ‘Unique and Uniquely Important Treaty’

The absence of global conventional arms regulations was “a disgrace” in an over-armed world where peace was under-funded, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told delegates today after opening the highly anticipated month-long United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, stalled yesterday and throughout much of today, owing to wrangling over the meeting’s rules of procedure.

“Nuclear issues capture headlines, but conventional arms are killing people every day,” the Secretary-General told the Conference tasked with the tall order of producing a legally binding international agreement on conventional arms transfers.  “Poorly regulated international arms transfers are fuelling civil conflicts, destabilizing regions and empowering terrorists and criminal networks.”

While headway had been made in tackling the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, enhancing transparency in conventional armaments, and establishing a Programme of Action on Small Arms, the Firearms Protocol and the United Nations Register of Conventional Weapons, there was no multilateral treaty of a global scope dealing with conventional arms, he said. 

Yet, armed conflicts had killed, injured or displaced civilians and had negative impacts on aid, he said.  “Poorly regulated trade in weaponry is a major obstacle to everything we do,” he added, noting that armed conflicts had hampered emergency assistance deliveries and, in the last decade, armed attacks had killed nearly 800 humanitarian workers.  “An agreed set of standards for arms exports along with strict national legislation can help begin to change all that.”

Such a treaty would also bolster the ability to promote social and economic development and women’s empowerment, support peacekeeping and peacebuilding and protect civilians while fostering the rule of law, he said.

“Let us face facts,” he frankly told delegates.  “The task before you is extremely complex.  There is a daunting array of challenges.  The arms trade touches on core national interests.  There are legitimate concerns and diverse perspectives at play.  You have difficult questions to tackle.”

But, he said, the common goal was clear:  a robust and legally binding arms trade treaty that would have a real impact on the lives of those millions of people suffering from the consequences of armed conflict, repression and armed violence.

“It is ambitious, but it is achievable,” he said.  “It will take flexibility, good faith and the best from all of us, but we must aim for nothing less.  We owe it to all the innocent civilians who have fallen victim to armed conflict and violence, to all the children deprived of a better future, to all those risking their lives to build peace and make this a better world.  For them and for our common future, let us make the most of this historic moment.”

Conference President Roberto Garcia Moritan of Argentina said those affected by armed violence were watching this Conference with great hope.  Every single minute there was a fatality because of those weapons, and each year, half a million people died as a result of armed violence, he said.  Illicit arms trafficking demanded urgent decision-making.

The treaty was “unique and uniquely important”, he said, adding the instrument was not a matter of control, but of regulation.  That meant that the rules of conduct must be codified in a legally binding instrument to achieve the common objective to ensure arms did not fall into the wrong hands and were not used improperly.

As for the delay, he said “diplomacy has dark times and other times it is brilliant,” but it was up to delegations to tackle the substantive issues with enthusiasm and commitment.  The history of diplomacy had shown that norms and agreed universal conducts were the best prescription for strengthening trust among States.  “Otherwise we are not doing justice to international security.”

This evening, the Conference managed to adopt its draft provisional agenda and rules of procedure and to constitute its Bureau, confirming the appointment of Daniel Prins, Chief, Conventional Weapons Branch of the Office of Disarmament Affairs, as Secretary-General of the Conference.  In addition, delegates approved the constitution of the Credentials Committee, which was based on that of the Credentials Committee of the General Assembly, namely China, Costa Rica, Egypt, Italy, Maldives, Panama, Russian Federation, Senegal and the United States. 

Prior to opening the floor for the general debate, Archbishop Francis Assisi Chullikatt, of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See, drew attention to his delegation’s participation, noting that the resolutions establishing this Conference and the provisional rules of procedure just approved demonstrated that this was indeed an international conference under the auspices of the General Assembly, whose resolutions stated that the Holy See should participate fully in such international conferences as had been the established practice, such as for the conferences on small arms and light weapons, chemical weapons, anti-personnel mines, and cluster munitions.

Reaffirming the Holy See’s deep commitment to disarmament and human rights issues, as well as its active participation in related negotiations and accessions, he said the current arrangements violated the resolution pertaining to the Holy See’s participation and was a flagrant violation of United Nations principles and practices.  That could be a disturbing precedent for the future of multilateral treaties with legally binding consequences and which the Holy See was looking forward to joining as a State party.  The Holy See demanded that its delegation in future conferences be properly accorded its rights and duties as a full participant.  The present arrangements should in no way be misconstrued as a precedent for future conferences, at which the Holy See’s rights must be duly respected.

During the general exchange of views that followed, Bob Carr, Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, said a decade ago, tens of thousands of AK47 assault rifles had been transported into Liberia in violation of a United Nations arms embargo and were used to commit the most terrible crimes by young boys who were forced to kill.  In that and other conflicts, small arms and light weapons had become weapons of mass destruction.  Although some States had taken action, the problem was global in nature and required a global solution. 

“We need an arms trade treaty that establishes the highest possible international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional weapons; that would promote much needed accountability and transparency in the global arms trade,” he said, emphasizing that the agreement must be comprehensive, must cover all conventional weapons — including small arms and light weapons and their ammunition — and must have strong criteria on which to assess arms exports, and clear, implementable provisions for national control systems.

Joe Nakano, Japan’s Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, said an arms trade treaty should aim to establish the highest common international standards that articulated clarity and objectivity as much as possible.  States should not authorize any conventional arms transfers that went against any international legal obligations and there should be strong criteria for assessing the potential risk an arms transfer could cause.  The treaty, however, should not restrict States’ legal trade in conventional arms for self-defence and other security purposes.

Heikki Holmås, Norway’s Minister of International Development, said negotiations here should have humanitarian elements.  The treaty had important security and development aspects, and scope and criteria were crucial elements.  It was vital to include all conventional arms, including small arms and light weapons, and ammunition.  The treaty should also make clear that States parties could not transfer arms if there was a risk that those weapons could be used to violate human rights and humanitarian law.  Other elements that should be incorporated into the treaty included reporting, marking and end-user certificates.

The Conference’s general exchange of views will continue at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 5 July.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.