Press Conference by President of Arms Trade Treaty Conference

2 April 2013

Press Conference by President of Arms Trade Treaty Conference

2 April 2013
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE BY President of Arms Trade Treaty Conference

The landmark Arms Trade Treaty would save lives and reduce human suffering if it was properly implemented, the man who led negotiations told reporters at Headquarters today.

“This is a very good framework,” said Peter Woolcott of Australia, President of the conference that negotiated the Treaty, which was adopted by the General Assembly today.  “It’s fair, I think it’s balanced and it’s strong.  But, it’s only a framework and it will only be as good as its implementation.”

He looked forward to seeing the focus of the international community shift onto the issue of how best to implement the Treaty to ensure that the “strong and effective” document set new international standards aiming to prevent the irresponsible and illegal transfer of arms that could be used to commit atrocities, human rights violations and violations of humanitarian law.

“Today is a good day for the United Nations and a good day for the peoples of the world,” he said, paying tribute to the hard work put in over years of negotiations and adding that the Treaty provided a “very good framework to build on” going forward.

Asked about the number of high profile abstentions from the vote in the General Assembly, Mr. Woolcott acknowledged the importance of “critical mass” in the implementation process, stressing that the final document had sought to strike a balance between arms importers, arms exporters and States that had prioritized a humanitarian outcome.  All States had sought to push their national interests in a constructive way throughout negotiations, he said.

Asked about the practical ways in which the Treaty would save lives, he said ratification was vital.  Although implementation was complex, the Treaty provided for accountability and transparency, as well as predictability in terms of the rules applied to all States parties.  A conference of states parties to the Treaty would oversee implementation, he added.

Asked how States would be held accountable and the Treaty’s mechanisms for evaluation, he said the conference of parties would be responsible for that.  That was the forum for airing the issues that needed resolving and was also responsible for obliging States to report on their efforts to implement the Treaty’s provisions.

Asked about the breakdown in consensus, he said there had been no confusion on the meaning of “consensus”.  Syria’s first intervention had taken place before the question of adopting the Treaty had been posed, so further negotiations went ahead in an attempt to achieve the consensus.  However, when it became apparent that could not be achieved, the Treaty was put to the floor.

Asked about the difficulties associated with his role, he acknowledged that negotiations had proven “very difficult” because of the complexity of the issues involved, which encompassed trade regulation along with human rights, humanitarian law and national defence.  Nonetheless, negotiations had remained “constructive” throughout, with real attempts made to bring about consensus during facilitation meetings.

Asked about the balance of the Treaty, he said he believed the interests of importers and exporters had been balanced well.

Asked why the number of ratifications required to bring the Treaty into effect had been reduced from 65 to 50, he said that “no magic” had been involved in the decision.  He had tired to balance the desires of the different States and, in the end, that number seemed the most appropriate.

Asked if he had foreseen the blocking of consensus, he said he knew on the morning of 28 March that one State planned to block consensus.  The other two States joined the movement later in the day.

Asked his feelings on the consensus rule at the United Nations, he said it was “a real problem”, and that the United Nations was grappling with the issue.  He personally did not like it, but the Arms Trade Treaty negotiations had been set up on that basis, so those were the rules to work with.

Asked what difference the lack of consensus would make to the impact and effect of the Treaty, he said “not much”.  Consensus would have improved perceptions of its overall legitimacy, he acknowledged, but added that, strictly speaking, it made no difference, with the text remaining the same and implementation remaining the key element.

Asked how many countries had broken consensus, he said three countries had broken consensus.

Asked if he could name those countries, he said they were the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran and Syria.

Asked what their reasons were for breaking consensus, he said that they believed the Treaty was imbalanced and that it would work against them.  He added that the three countries had set out their reasons at length during the Final Conference and also today at the General Assembly.

Asked if he believed the three countries’ reasons for blocking consensus, he stressed that what the three countries had said privately to him was the same as what they had said publicly.

Asked more about his hopes for implementation of the Treaty, he said he looked forward to reaching 50 ratifications quickly, so that the Treaty would come into force, and from there he looked forward to the first meeting of the States parties to the Treaty.  At those future conferences of parties, he looked forward to States working out how best to move forward with implementation as quickly and effectively as possible.

Asked how quickly the Treaty was likely to receive 50 ratifications, he said it would probably “take a year or two”.

Asked about the practical impact that the Treaty was likely to have on conflicts, he said the big issue was the diversion and the illicit trade.  On that front, the Treaty was “robust”, he said, pointing to article 14, which set out States’ obligations to cooperate with one another

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