Friday, November 9, 2012

The Final Arms Trade Treaty Diplomatic Conference

On 7 November 2012, the First Committee of the UN General Assembly voted in favour of draft resolution A/C.1/67/L.11, which called for the ‘Final United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty’ to be convened in New York on 18–28 March 2013 to ‘finalize the elaboration of the Arms Trade Treaty’. In separate votes on the decision to hold the conference during those dates, and to negotiate on the basis of the July 2012 draft text, Iran alone voted against. This new conference will negotiate on the basis of the draft treaty text submitted by the President of the July 2012 UN Diplomatic Conference (doc. A/CONF.217/CRP.1). The resolution as a whole was adopted by 157 votes to nil with 18 abstentions, and is (almost) certain to be passed by the plenary of the Assembly in December.
On 30 October 2012, the Geneva Academy published a briefing paper on the July 2012 draft treaty text. The authors recommend that the March 2013 Diplomatic Conference seek to agree on a number of improvements to that text. The following five issues are considered the most critical if a global Arms Trade Treaty is to prevent the very serious problems resulting from irresponsible or unregulated arms transfers:
  1. Under Article 3 on prohibited transfers, paragraph 2 should be redrafted to include customary international law by deleting the phrase ‘under international agreements to which it is a Party’.
  2. Under Article 3 on prohibited transfers, paragraph 3 should be redrafted to reflect the international law standard of knowledge rather than purpose in order to prevent the transfer of arms that will likely be used to commit genocide, crimes against humanity, or (any) war crimes where the transferring state has knowledge that the arms are likely to be so used.
  3. The term ‘overriding’ in Article 4, paragraph 5, should be replaced to ensure that the standard does not depend on interpreting an ill-defined notion of peace and security.
  4. Article 5, paragraph 2 as a whole (or at least the first sentence) should be deleted.
  5. Ammunition and munitions should be included within the scope of the Treaty in Article 2.
They state that it would also be useful to clarify that the definition of trade/transfer includes gifts, leases, or loans, and further that the 2013 Diplomatic Conference should consider the possibility of including in the ATT an anti-circumvention clause as well as a clause covering technology transfer.
In accordance with the draft General Assembly resolution, the rules of procedure in the March 2013 Diplomatic Conference will remain the same as in the July 2012 Conference--adoption of the treaty by consensus--so similar negotiating dynamics will likely prevail. What is as yet unknown is who will preside over the conference, a tricky task indeed. We will also learn whether it is possible to adopt a meaningful weapons law treaty without the possibility of any vote on substance. It's a big ask.