12 July 2010. The first day of the first Preparatory Committee for an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) opened today at the United Nations in New York. There are four PrepComs planned in 2010-2012 according to UN General Assembly Resolution 64/48 (The arms trade treaty), leading to a four-week-long Diplomatic Conference in 2012 to "elaborate" the treaty. Operative Paragraph 7 of the resolution calls for the PrepComs to make recommendations to the Diplomatic Conference on the "elements that would be needed to attain an effective and balanced legally binding international instrument on the highest common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms."
One issue that was not agreed on in the resolution was the extent to which NGOs would be able to participate in the preparatory work for the future ATT. This issue was resolved on the first morning with the adoption of draft decision A/CONF.217/PC/L.2, which allows not only NGOs with ECOSOC accreditation to attend the "open meetings" of the PrepCom, but also other "interested" NGOs whose work "is relevant to the scope and purpose of the Conference" provided that the PrepCom does not object. In addition, representatives of accredited NGOs will be allowed to address the PrepCom "during one meeting specifically allocated for that purpose".
Government statements to the first morning of the prepcom
A number of introductory statements were delivered during the first morning, several notable by the lack of any reference to the aim of enhancing compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law. The UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Sergio Duarte, noted that Member States "have committed themselves to concluding a 'strong and robust' treaty, which provides assurances of a meaningful process."
Belgium delivered a statement on behalf of the European Union in which it stated that the development of an ATT "is a priority that the international community cannot ignore." It called for the PrepCom to focus on the "structure" of a future treaty. It also noted that a number of countries "still retain some concerns and reservation about the relevance of an Arms Trade Treaty. These are legitimate positions, but they should not be used to indefinitely delay the incipient negotiating process."
Nigeria delivered a statement on behalf of the African Union in which it pointed out that: "While not being among the major producers and exporters of conventional weapons in the world, many African States ... suffer disproportionately the pernicious effects of irresponsible transfer of arms ... ." It called notably for the future ATT to contain "a clear prohibition of transfers to unauthorized non-State actors."
Switzerland stressed three elements in the context of the treaty that it considered particularly important:
- compliance of arms transfers with existing international obligations, international humanitarian law and human rights and the influence of arms transfers on the maintenance of international peace and security as well as regional and sub-regional stability;
- transparency wwith regard to licences granted and denied and arms imported; and
- a monitoring mechanism to collate and analyse information provided by future States Parties.
The United Kingdom pointed out the need not to "underestimate the challenge" of negotiating an ATT, noting that "the devil is in the detail". It called for the following elements to be included in an ATT:
- a preamble to set out the rationale and goals of the treaty;
- a provision on general obligations;
- a provision on the scope of application of the treaty, including the types of conventional weapons and transfers to be regulated by it;
- a national authorisation system and the assessment process that should take place before any authorisation takes place;
- clarification of how the treaty relates to other international agreements;
- transparency provisions (regular reporting and a mechanism for information exchange);
- verification and compliance provisions;
- a mechanism for consultation and for dispute settlement;
- annual or biannual meetings of States Parties; and
- provisions on relations between States Parties and States not party to the future treaty.
Small Arms Survey side event: Better Understanding the Trade in Small Arms
The Small Arms Survey presented the results of research into the global trade in small arms and light weapons at the German Permanent Mission to the UN. Noting significant gaps in data, they nonetheless concluded that the trade was worth more than US$4 billion in 2006. One State, the USA, was responsible for almost 40% of all military firearms exports in that year with nine other States accounting for a further 35%. At the same time, it was observed that very little was known about the situation in Sub-Saharan Africa, despite the region seeing the highest number of deaths from armed conflict. It concluded that "sensitive trades" had a low (relative) financial value.
The situation with respect to small arms ammunition is less transparent, although it is estimated that the value of trade was some US$1.77 billion in 2007. Even less is known about light weapons ammunition transfers (e.g. of grenades, mortar rounds up to 120mm, man-portable rockets), although the trade is estimated to be worth some $2.5 billion. Ammunition is not covered by the UN Register of Conventional Arms.
Government statements to the afternoon session of the first day of the PrepCom
The Russian Federation stated that all States were united in a determination to ensure weapons that did not end up in the wrong hands (e.g. gangs, criminals, and terrorists) through illicit trafficking. It noted that a weak instrument, even if universally adopted, would not be a step forward as it might legitimise existing poor practice. At the same time, it declared it was "premature to speak now of a legally binding ATT. The status of a final document, as it seems [sic], should be defined by its content."
Norway declared that it was a strong supporter of the ATT process but called for clear identification of the goals of the future ATT. For Norway, it should seek to reduce armed violence and promote effective implementation of international humanitarian law and human rights. Norway believes that the scope of application of the treaty should be wide, covering all conventional weapons and ammunition unless they are specifically excepted. Criteria for prohibiting arms transfers should be based on the fact or likelihood that weapons will be used to violate IHL or human rights, or that they are likely to be re-exported or diverted such as to do so. Norway also called for the rights of victims of armed violence to be included in the treaty.
Japan noted particularly the need to consider transfers to States not parties.
China stated it was in favour of international action on illicit transfer of arms. Legal transfers, it believes, promote the right to self-defence and to security. It reiterated the need for consensus on decision-making. China said it has never authorised transfers to non-State entities.
France stated that the statements made so far were "extremely positive". It called for a treaty that was flexible enough to be amended in the future.
Iran stressed the need for consensus in all decisions, in recognition of a State's legitimate right to defend itself. Any information provision under the treaty should be voluntary.
Morocco also noted the need for respect for right of self-defence and territorial integrity of States and stressed the importance of consensus in decision-making. It referred to a problem of safeguarding borders in West Africa to prevent illicit transfers, notably to non-State actors.
The USA stated it was prepared to work for strong international standards to govern the arms trade. It was an "absolute requirement" to have a positive outcome and the treaty should be "a floor not a ceiling". It noted that national implementation was key to the successful implementation of the future treaty. It stated that transfers are a "sovereign" decision and blanket prohibitions were not appropriate. The treaty must cover all conventional weapons, including small arms and light weapons but also larger "more destabilising" weaponry. The USA believes that transparency will be an essential element in making the treaty work -- by both importer and exporter.
Nigeria called for the treaty to cover all seven categories of conventional arms included on the UN Register, as well as small arms and light weapons and ammunition.
Libya believed that small arms and ammunition should be dealt with separately.
The Netherlands noted that the treaty should be a minimum standard. On scope, it favoured the widest possible scope, including transfers of components, ammunition, and technologies. Transparency, it stated, is essential.
List of Statements
- United Kingdom
- The Russian Federation
- Belgium (on behalf of the EU)
- Nigeria (on behalf on the African Group)