Arms Trade Treaty Will End ‘Free-for-All’ Nature of Transfers, Secretary-General Says at Signing Ceremony, Noting All Eyes on Traders, Producers, Governments

3 June 2013

Arms Trade Treaty Will End ‘Free-for-All’ Nature of Transfers, Secretary-General Says at Signing Ceremony, Noting All Eyes on Traders, Producers, Governments

3 June 2013
Meetings Coverage
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Special Event Marking

Opening for Signature

of Arms Trade Treaty (AM & PM)

Arms Trade Treaty Will End ‘Free-for-All’ Nature of Transfers, Secretary-General

Says at Signing Ceremony, Noting All Eyes on Traders, Producers, Governments

To ‘Unscrupulous Arms Dealers ‑ Days of Easy Access to Weapons, Ammunition

Are Over’, Says Civil Society Representative, as 67 Governments Sign Treaty

The first ever international treaty to regulate the trade of conventional weapons “opened a door of hope” to millions of people living in deprivation and fear because of the poorly controlled trade and the proliferation of those deadly weapons, the United Nations top official said today as the instrument opened for signature, with more than 60 delegates lining up to pen their names.

With the Arms Trade Treaty, “the world has decided to finally put an end to the free-for-all nature of international weapons transfers,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, adding that, from now on, weapons and ammunition should only cross borders after the exporter confirmed that the transfer complied with internationally agreed standards.

Having won overwhelming support in the General Assembly in April following years of intensive negotiations, the Treaty would be an effective deterrent against excessive and destabilizing arms flows, particularly in conflict-prone regions, he said.  It would make it harder for weapons to be diverted into the illicit market, to reach warlords, pirates, terrorists and criminals, or to be used to commit grave human rights abuses or international humanitarian law violations.

Urging major arms-trading countries to be the first movers, he said “the eyes of the world are watching arms traders, manufacturers and Governments as never before”.  With that, he called on all Governments to bring national legislation and procedures in line with the text to enable it to become a “strong force for security and development for all”. 

Declaring open the treaty-signing ceremony, Angela Kane, United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, described today as the “junction between the outcome of the complex negotiation process and the opening of a new chapter, in which States signed up to an international contract bringing responsibility and transparency to the global arms trade”.

The Treaty was the first ever legally binding regulation of the conventional arms trade, she said, adding that while it was “not perfect”, it “certainly was robust”, covering a wide array of weaponry, including small arms as well as ammunition, parts and components.  The immediate task now was to encourage a high number of States to sign and ratify it so as to expedite its entry into force.  The Treaty would enter force 90 days after the fiftieth ratification. 

“The process of implementation begins today,” said Peter Woolcott of Australia, President of the Final United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty.  He stressed that the Treaty was balanced and strong.  “We did it together,” he said, recognizing the efforts of all stakeholders, including his predecessor.  He also stressed the important role of civil society in the processes leading up to adoption of the instrument and going forward.   

Christine Beerli, Vice-President, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), hailed today’s event as a “historic occasion” marking the “first concerted international response” to the human cost resulting from the widespread availability of conventional arms.  The range of conventional weapons covered by the text, as well as the inclusion of ammunition and parts and components, also reflected the Treaty’s humanitarian purpose, she said. 

Poor controls on small arms and light weapons had been shown to facilitate violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law and had hampered assistance activities, she noted.  The Treaty’s recording and reporting obligations would make it possible to monitor compliance and to take follow-up measures, helping to ensure the best implementation.

Anna Macdonald, Head of Arms Control, Oxfam, and Co-Chair of the Control Arms Coalition, recalled that a decade ago, she and her colleagues in 70 countries had come together to launch the “Control Arms” campaign with a simple message:  the arms trade was out of control and ordinary people around the world were suffering at the rate of one death every minute, with millions more forced from their homes, suffering abuse and impoverishment.

“To unscrupulous arms dealers, dictators and human rights abusers, we have a clear message:  Your days of easy access to weapons and ammunition are over.  The world is watching, and the world will hold you to account,” she said.  The Treaty was not perfect, she agreed, but it was definitely “a treaty worth signing”.  Working in partnership was not always easy for non-governmental organizations and Governments, but that had been an important part of the progress, “without which we would not have had success”, she added.

Following those opening remarks, representatives, including at the ministerial level, proceeded to sign the Treaty, with the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Argentina being the first to do so.  Many delegations, including permanent Security Council members United Kingdom and France, which supported the text in the General Assembly vote, signed it today, while some that had abstained, including China and the Russian Federation, did not.  Nor did the United States, which had said “yes” to the Treaty in April.  Its delegate explained that the Government looked forward to signing as soon as the process of conforming the official translations was complete.

Throughout the ceremony, a number of speakers threw their full support behind the Treaty, with many calling it a historic milestone to curb the illicit weapons trade.  Regulating weapons transfers, they said, was intimately linked to achieving peace, and they warned that illegal arms makers, dealers and traders could no longer operate in anonymity.

Countries had “queued up” to sign the Treaty, said Alistair Burt, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom, recognising its importance and the potential it held for making the world a safer place.  He said he was “very proud” to sign the document with a “parental flourish”, having been one of the original co-authors who had introduced the initial resolution in 2006 calling for work towards such a treaty.

He said he signed the document today for all those who had written letters, who had campaigned and who had despaired that their efforts might not be rewarded.  The United Kingdom intended to ratify it within the year and would spare no effort to ensure the Treaty made a real difference to the people that needed it most.

The representative of France said the Treaty’s adoption in the General Assembly had closed the gap in arms trade; global commerce of most other items had long been regulated.  The international community had acquired a treaty that could strengthen international peace and security; it would work against the illicit arms proliferation, and thus help to defeat terrorism and organized crime. 

Additionally, he said, the Treaty showed the benefits of effective multilateralism and proved the importance of the United Nations.  It behoved the international community to “carry the torch” on behalf of those killed as a result of the arms trade and for the benefit of future generations.

Citing a proverb that “the pen is mightier than the sword”, Japan’s delegate said that “it is not arms that end conflict, but words that prevent one.”  Picking up that thread, many speakers stressed that those words needed to be translated into action to make a difference on the ground.

“It is upon us, Member States, to ensure that this Treaty is not a mere decoration on our bookshelves,” said the representative of the United Republic of Tanzania, whose Government had been among the initial signatories.  Indeed, the Treaty must be as vibrant at home as it was regionally and internationally.  He urged a level playing field between importers and exporters to ensure the Treaty was not used either to curtail legitimate arms trade or to undermine State sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Describing the Treaty as a landmark achievement for Trinidad and Tobago and the world, that country’s Foreign Minister, Winston Dookeran, said it would also positively impact the Caribbean region, which suffered from illicit arms trade and cross-border organized crime.  His Government had already begun the process of ratification and intended to be among the first 50 States that would make it operational.  The Treaty required a secretariat to assist its implementation, and to that end, he made an official bid to host that body in his country.

“Protection of human rights must guide and determine the practices of the international arms trade,” asserted First Vice President of Costa Rica Alfio Piva Mesén.  With each signature, the world moved closer to a future in which countries fulfilled their responsibility to deny arms transfers in cases of high risk that weapons would be used to violate human rights or international law.

Indeed, a binding treaty was vital to separate the legitimate trade in military equipment from illicit trafficking, said Guido Westerwelle, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany, stressing:  “This is a good treaty”.  It could save lives, and Germany would push for its early entry into force.  His Government had adopted a draft ratification law and Parliament would this week begin deliberations to complete national ratification in the next few months.

Several others said the Treaty provided the highest standards of transparency, predictability, accountability and national monitoring of a multi-billion dollar industry, which often operated in the shadows.  It was a confidence-building mechanism.  To that point, Mike Kelly, Minister for Defence Materiel of Australia ‑ a co-author of the treaty ‑ said the impact of arms on human life had been a “key motivator” for his Government.  Facilitating capacity-building was essential, he said, noting that the Treaty was especially significant to Pacific Island States, vulnerable to the spread of even relatively small quantities of arms and ammunition.  Australia had committed $1 million to establish a multilateral assistance fund and he encouraged States to join the initiative. 

“No country is too small” to serve the noble cause of peacebuilding, efforts to which the Arms Trade Treaty formed an integral part, said the representative of the Seychelles.  Still others saw the treaty as a vindication for the United Nations and its collective way of doing business.  To those who had doubted that the Organization could still achieve set goals, the Treaty had put forward a strong response.  It had been negotiated, adopted and signed at United Nations Headquarters.

“This is a moment for hope and optimism,” said Joe Costello, Minister for Trade and Development of Ireland.  The United Nations label conferred unique and unrivalled reputation.  Still, the challenges ahead were noted by many speakers who drew particular attention to issues of universality and national implementation.  The Treaty could only make a real difference if fully implemented, they said.

The delegate of Burkina Faso promised that no effort would be spared at the national level to ensure the Treaty’s entry into force, pledging also to work to strengthen instruments at the regional and subregional levels, including the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons. 

The representative of Benin was among the many African States that spoke about how the illicit trade of conventional weapons and their diversion into the illegal market had destabilized the continent.  Although his delegation wanted a stronger treaty, it met the legitimate yearning of the people who needed it.  His Government was finalizing the internal ratification process.

The representative of Côte d’Ivoire expressed disappointment that the Treaty had not taken onboard all of his country’s concerns, especially related to arms transfers between non-State actors and sanctions in cases of treaty violations.  Further, there was no mention of socioeconomic development.

Also speaking were Ministers from the Dominican Republic, Spain, Mexico, Finland, Estonia, Grenada, Italy and Norway.

Representatives from the following countries also spoke:  the Republic of Korea, Chile, Montenegro, Switzerland, Brazil, Denmark, Jamaica, Uruguay, Netherlands, Iceland, Belgium, Albania, Lithuania, New Zealand, Croatia, Mozambique, Slovenia, Sweden, Senegal, Romania, Burundi, Turkey, Peru and Samoa.

A representative of the Regional Centre on Small Arms in the Great Lakes Region, the Horn of Africa and Bordering States also spoke.

The number of signatories so far stands at 67, as follows:  Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Chile, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Guyana, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mexico, Montenegro, Mozambique, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Palau, Panama, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Senegal, Seychelles, Slovenia, Spain, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, and Uruguay.

* *** *

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