Press Conference on Final United Nations Conference on Arms Trade Treaty

18 March 2013

Press Conference on Final United Nations Conference on Arms Trade Treaty

18 March 2013
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Final United Nations Conference on Arms Trade Treaty


While reaching consensus on the Final United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty was a laudable aim, the main focus of the resumed negotiations should be “getting it right” and ensuring that a strong treaty emerged from the discussions, a civil society representative said at a Headquarters press conference today.

“Weak treaties change very little,” emphasized Anna McDonald, Head of Arms Control for Oxfam.  “Strong treaties are what change international situations; strong treaties set high standards; strong treaties change behaviour.”  She said she remained optimistic about an agreement because negotiations had continued since last July, when Member States had proven unable to agree, and because the current negotiations had begun with a draft treaty already on the table.  “Last time, we started with a blank sheet of paper,” she recalled.

However, she complained about “dangerous loopholes” in the draft and called on Member States to close them in order to produce “a treaty that saves lives and protects people”.  A quality final document should be the main aim, even if that meant leaving some States unhappy with the outcome, she stressed.  Outlining elements she deemed vital for a treaty, Ms. McDonald called for an “absolute prohibition” on arms transfers in which there was a clear chance that the weapons could be used to commit war crimes.  She also called for accountability when Governments carried out their risk assessments ahead of transfers.

An arms trade would also need built-in compliance measures to ensure that brokering received more than the “tokenistic attention” it currently received, she said, adding that proper implementation called for public reporting by Governments.  She also highlighted the questions of ammunition and components, as well as weapons transfers that were part of national defence cooperation agreements, two topics that had proven particularly problematic in the past.  With such changes incorporated, an arms trade treaty would put the world’s irresponsible arms dealers and gun-runners on notice that their impunity was coming to an end because of the international community’s collective will, she added.

Accompanying Ms. McDonald were the actor and activist Djimon Hounsou and Jeffrey Duke, Director of the South Sudan Action Network on Small Arms.  Introducing the speakers was Roberto Dondisch, Mexico’s Head Negotiator on the Arms Trade Treaty, whose delegation sponsored the press conference.  He stressed his country’s support for tighter regulation, saying it was “absolutely immoral for the international community not to ensure strong regulation of the arms trade” while regulating most other less innocuous trades.

Mr. Hounsou, describing the impact of unregulated arms trading on the continuing internal strife in South Sudan, cited the problem of cattle raiding, saying it was exacerbated by the raiders’ ownership of guns rather than spears.  A strong arms trade treaty would restrict the flow of weapons and bullets, making it harder for cattle raiders to attack communities.

Echoing his views, Mr. Duke stressed that under current arrangements, the Government of South Sudan spent considerable sums on successful disarmament programmes only to see arms immediately reinserted into the country through the illicit trade.  Disarmament programmes were extremely expensive and caused the diversion of money meant for improving infrastructure or education services.  Much of that money came from foreign aid contributions, he pointed out, adding that arms trafficking caused a vicious cycle of disarmament and armament.

Citing evidence from Jonglei State, he said the Government had deployed 15,000 soldiers in March 2012 to disarm the local population.  The soldiers had retrieved 14,000 weapons, he said, noting that such a large and expensive arsenal gave an idea of how the arms trade was “stealing” South Sudan’s resources.  He also underlined the need for an arms trade treaty to regulate the flow of munitions, saying “conflicts in Africa have [been] prolonged because of the ability of combatants to reload”.

Asked about the likelihood of the treaty being put to a vote if it contained a provision on munitions, Ms. McDonald said a clear majority supported a strong treaty, in particular those States most affected by the arms trade.  While hoping for consensus, she would prefer a vote on a strong treaty rather than a unanimously agreed weak one, she emphasized.

When asked about the link between the arms trade and gender-based violence, and whether an arms trade treaty would address such concerns, she said the draft treaty contained a weak reference to that issue, and stressed that the risk of gender-based violence must be assessed before States agreed to any arms sales.

To a question about arming liberation movements, Mr. Duke replied that deciding whether a cause was legitimate and genuine was a high-level political decision to be taken by Governments in a transparent manner.

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