Tuesday, April 2, 2013

We have an Arms Trade Treaty! But the hard work starts now...

On Tuesday, 2 April 2013, States gathered at the United Nations General Assembly for the adoption of the UN Arms Trade Treaty. As French President General de Gaulle famously said prior to referenda he put to the French people, "Je veux un 'oui' massif !" And this is what was achieved today. The resolution--and thus the treaty--was adopted by an overwhelming margin: 154 votes to three with 23 abstentions.

With the benefit of "20-20 hindsight", we should therefore heartily thank the United States for having blocked agreement at the diplomatic conference in July 2012, as the treaty text that has ultimately been adopted is much better and stronger than the draft proposed by the then-Conference President, Ambassador Moritan.
 
Here in the General Assembly, the treaty was considered directly in plenary meeting under Agenda Item 94 (General and Complete Disarmament). In the words of the General Assembly President, "The historic dimension of this day" is that a global arms trade treaty is "for the first time the subject of action in this Chamber." He noted that the Conference on Disarmament had not produced significant results for more than a decade.
 
Conference President Peter Woolacott then took the floor. He noted that he had ruled that there was not a consensus in the Conference itself due to the objections of Iran, DPR Korea, and Syria. The final text is a compromise text but would make a difference to the broadest range of stakeholders. At this point, Costa Rica introduced the draft resolution that would adopt the treaty. The Costa Rican Ambassador stated that the treaty was a robust and balanced document.
 
In explanations before vote, Indonesia noted that it never stood in the way of consensus, but stated that it would abstain as the treaty text contained "substantive deficiencies" as it did not reflect the needs of importing states, the need for self-defence, the scope was "expanded" and "not entirely clear", and left too much in exporting states in determining what was a serious violation of IHL or human rights. They had wanted an advisory expert group. Finally, it did not specifically prevent transfers to armed non-state actors.
 
Syria stated that they “were not against the treaty” but said that “we were in need of a good treaty that we will not regret later”. It had wanted a reference in the text to the right to self-determination of peoples living under foreign occupation, and specifically cited Israel in this regard. It also wanted a categorical reference to non-supply to unauthorised non-state terrorists. It did not refer to aggression. The criteria for denying exports were selective, and also represented interference in the work of the UN Security Council.
 
Cuba complained that a non-consensual treaty was being imposed on Cuba and other states. “This is a document that is not balanced.” It also opposed transfers to unauthorised non-state actors, which was a flagrant violation of the principles of the United Nations.
 
Nicaragua stated that it wanted a consensus agreement for the Arms Trade Treaty. It similarly opposed transfers to unauthorised non-state actors and regretted that the right to self-defence was not recognised. It noted that unlawful transfers in the 1980s had resulted in many thousands of Nicaraguans being killed. It would abstain in the vote.
 
Venezuela complained about "artificial deadlines" for the completion of the treaty. The treaty lacked balance and scope.
 
Bolivia hoped for consensual limits on arms. The final draft had deficiencies and gaps. It also opposed transfers to unauthorised non-state actors. It would abstain in the vote.
 
Russia stated that the draft had a number of shortcomings, notably the lack of a specific prohibition on transfers to unauthorised non-state actors. It was particularly concerned about Article 6(3). Knowledge meant “full knowledge”—in Russian it would be translated as “possesses knowledge”. It would abstain in the vote.
 
Ecuador complained about "highly subjective" criteria in Article 7 and imbalances between importing and exporting states. It also complained about attempts to redefine "consensus". It would abstain in the vote.
 
Sudan noted the lack of a specific prohibition on transfers to unauthorised non-state actors. It regretted the lack of definitions. It would abstain in the vote.
 
Pakistan stated that it would vote in favour. It was not an arms control or a disarmament treaty, but about responsible arms trade. It stated that consensus in the UN was generally considered to be adoption of a decision without formal opposition. It regretted the lack of definitions. There was a relative lack of accountability for exporters.  

In explanations after the vote, India stated that the treaty text fell short of its objections. It was not balanced, and was weak on terrorism and non-state actors. India had abstained on the resolution.

Egypt regretted the lack of consensus in the two diplomatic conferences and that a disarmament treaty was adopted by a vote. The provision of prohibitions should have included a reference to aggression. It also referred to resolutions of the Human Rights Council as being relevant for determinations of whether serious violations of human rights had occurred.

Belarus abstained because of the lack of a specific prohibition on transfers to unauthorised non-state actors. The reference to IHL and human rights was, it believed, insufficiently clear.

China stated that it had abstained and that the process of adoption of the ATT would not constitute a precedent for future arms negotiations.

Singapore regretted the lack of consensus.

DPR Korea stated that it had voted "no" resulting from great concerns with regard to the ATT. The treaty was in the interests of the exporters.

Malaysia stated that it had always supported the ATT process.

The UAE welcomed the adoption of the treaty and had voted in favour of the resolution.  It associated itself with the concerns to be expressed subsequently by Lebanon. It regretted the lack of a reference to the rights of people under foreign occupation.

Lebanon regretted the lack of a reference to the rights of people under foreign occupation.

Eritrea stated that it had voted in favour but without prejudice to its views on the treaty.

Iran stated that it had voted against the resolution. It had many objections (more than a dozen) to the text of the treaty, including the reference to the UN Security Council.

In statements after vote, Mexico delivered a statement on behalf of many states. It stressed the relevance of human rights and humanitarian law to determinations of proposed transfers of conventional arms. "This is just the beginning. The hard work starts now."

Costa Rica speaking on behalf of a number of states stated that this was the first ever set of global standards to govern the arms trade.
 
Trinidad and Tobago spoke on behalf of CARICOM and heartily welcomed the adoption of the treaty. They would have liked to see a reference to customary international law in the provisions dealing with prohibitions.

The European Union stated its appreciation of the adoption of the treaty.

Colombia speaking on behalf of a number of states said that the text was the best that could be achieved in the prevailing context.

Lebanon speaking on behalf of the Arab Group said that they had hoped to join support for the treaty but they found that the text was not balanced.

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