February 13 2012
As of the beginning of February, the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) negotiations in July have an inescapable litmus test: to undoubtedly prevent, under international law, the transfer of arms and ammunition to a regime in the midst of killing thousands of its own people. Incredibly, the enforcement of this seemingly obvious restraint has not been achieved by the Security Council, nor the UN in general, after the overwhelming majority of countries strived in vain for an agreement to stop the senseless bloodshed, ultimately unable to influence a shocking unilateral national decision.
This bare-minimum, of course, is only one of several basic thresholds the ATT must overcome to have significant real-life impact. Another threshold is the need to include in the treaty’s scope all conventional weapons and their ammunition, including internal security equipment often used in repression, and all transfers, not only exports. Also, introducing strong decision-making human rights and international humanitarian law (IHL) criteria with a “shall not” clause is vitally important — “taking into account” could be ignored by the very cynic, even in cases of substantial risk of serious violations. To make sure the ATT is effective, mandatory annual national reports should be comprehensive and public, allowing civil society to monitor implementation.
We can draw some lessons from these tragic developments, and the international community’s current inability to address them, as the final preparatory committee (PrepCom)’s discussions focus on the rules of procedure for the negotiations in July. First, it has become painfully clear that a handful of countries do not want any real controls on the arms trade. This should inform the discussions regarding “consensus”. In other fora, consensus has been used as a veto by individual countries, which has had tragic humanitarian consequences in a body with 15 members. Imagine the pitfalls in a body of 193 members. The wishes of the overwhelming majority of countries — and their citizens — must be protected from the callous humanitarian indifference of the very few.
It is precisely those citizens that the ATT must be designed to protect. Therefore, the ATT negotiating conference must faithfully follow the “open and transparent” prescription from the 2009 General Assembly resolution, and allow full participation of those that have been constructive partners for years but whose demands are not guided by national interests. Allowing civil society as observers in all sessions of the negotiating conference will ensure the legitimacy and transparency of the future ATT, bringing both technical expertise and the views from those affected by irresponsible arms transfers. Even if the people of certain nations are not represented in these halls, they should be defended nonetheless.
Finally, the fiasco in the UN Security Council also points to the fact that the ATT negotiations will be immensely difficult, and the time available (barely 20 days) is quite short considering the task of negotiating a robust ATT. As such, it is essential that the international community does not squander the enormous efforts expended since 2006 — it should make good use, as a basis for negotiations, of the “Chairman’s paper”. This document, while imperfect, offers the only comprehensive cornerstone available to build a strong ATT upon. The international community cannot afford reverting to a clean slate.
The recent deadlock at the Security Council clearly proves the urgency and necessity for a robust ATT. As an official from the arms exporting nation in the case mentioned above bluntly put it, “we are not violating any international obligations”. It is time to change that — and make such immoral deals illegal.
Originally published at controlarmsblog.wordpress.com on December 5, 2013.