Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The End of the Beginning

© Jesper Waldersten
So, at last, we have a negotiation underway. The UN Secretary-General formally opened the Diplomatic Conference at 10.50am on Day 2 and Ambassador Roberto Moritán was appointed by acclamation as the President of the Conference. In accepting his position, the President stated that "Finally, finally, with a little delay, we are opening a negotiation of an historic, uniquely important treaty." He further noted that: "On occasion, diplomacy has dark times." He further remarked that every UN member state was present in the room, a testament to the importance of an Arms Trade Treaty.

The UN Secretary-General then delivered his opening address, remarking that "the whole international community is watching how the conference will come out." He said that it was a "disgrace" that there was no multilateral treaty governing the transfer of conventional weapons and observed that "the world is overarmed and peace is underfunded". He claimed that the world spent US$1 trillion each year on arms and that the equivalent of 60 years of funding for peacekeeping was less than six weeks of military spending.

President Moritán then suspended the conference for "five minutes" to resolve some difficulties, i.e. the question of the participation of Palestine in the Diplomatic Conference. Palestine submitted its credentials to the Credentials Committee, which would then be required to rule on them or report back to the plenary of the conference where a vote would then, in all likelihood, have to be held. As a conference set up by the UN General Assembly this was potentially of major significance.

Five minutes became seven hours. At 5.55pm President Moritán returned in a hurry (the interpreters were about to leave) and Palestine was seated between the Holy See and Afghanistan at the front of the hall, requiring a game of musical chairs by states and a long huddle to resolve an unknown final dispute. The reseating was achieved after further intervention by the President (with UN security personnel standing by) and at 6.18pm the President returned to the podium and, at whirlwind speed, adopted the Rules of Procedure (without amendment) and the agenda for the conference, and the election of the 14 members of the Bureau for the conference was duly secured.

At this point, the Holy See took the floor to complain bitterly that they had been downgraded from their status of participating state, which was a "flagrant disregard of the principles and practices of the organisation". "In no way" was this a precedent for future conferences.

With the interpreters having now left, President Moritán continued in English and called for the appointment of Daniel Prins, Chief of the Conventional Arms Branch of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (ODA) as the Secretary-General of the Diplomatic Conference. In congratulating his appointment by acclamation, the President said that they “now had to work hard”.

The President then started the high-level opening statements. Many ministers had already left New York, but the Norwegian Minister of International Development, the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan all took the floor. Norway called for a “meaningful treaty” with “strong and binding language” to be negotiated that included small arms and light weapons and ammunition. Japan said the treaty “must not leave the arms trade in darkness”, while calling for “flexibility” on transit and brokering. Australia said that “any delay means more lives lost”.

In closing the meeting, Ambassador Moritan announced the circulation of a new draft “which is not the basis for anything”. “It might be wrong and it might even be awful.” A later blog entry will analyse just how wrong or awful this new text might be, which he must nonetheless hope will prove to be the basis for negotiations.

There is no meeting on Day Three of the Conference, as it is 4th July, the US holiday that celebrates US independence from Great Britain. We will reconvene on Thursday at 10am to begin the real work. To paraphrase a famous Hollywood phrase, “this stuff just got real”.

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