The Arms Trade Treaty’s running behind schedule and under serious threats!

By Angeline Annesteus


The opening week of the Arms Trade Treaty was characterized by procedural matters and wrangling because the Arab Group (Egypt) asked for Palestine to be recognized as a state, which Israel obviously refused. The past three weeks, states got down to some important discussions but did not have the basis for negotiations on most of the key elements of the treaty.

As states are running a least one week behind schedule and there are now only three days left, the chair finally put out a complete negotiating text but it is very weak and there are potential risks for loopholes and gasps. Some key elements such as ammunitions are excluded from the text’s provisions.

The talks which carried on throughout the weekend until now are being dominated by skeptical governments such as Cuba, Syria, and Iran that wish to have either a weak or no treaty at all. The United States wants the exclusions of ammunitions, or if included it shouldn’t be under scope and criteria.

Russia and China are against effective human rights and international humanitarian rules in any deal. In fact, China and Russia positions are very threatening but not surprising. Of the five Permanent Security Council members, not only China and Russia are against the inclusions of effective human rights and international humanitarian laws, but also they are chief violators of these laws and UN arms embargoes by transferring arms to governments that perpetrate civilian terrors, including Syria and Sudan.

France and United Kingdom which throughout the negotiations have been key advocates of a strong treaty are now facing pressure from Washington, and show concerns that they might have to trade-off strong human rights and international humanitarian laws just to get China, US, and Russia sign up any final deal.

Countries, including Japan and Australia, are reportedly saying less and less of real substance in the negotiations instead of putting their efforts to have key players behind-closed door talks.

The top escape clauses for States in the final draft of consolidated text of the ATT are summarized as follow,

1.      Meaningless references to controlling parts and components and ammunition

2.     States can evade controls on weapons through gifting weapons or through military assistance programs.

3.     The rules governing arms exports allow states to ignore human rights

4.     States can make their own judgments irrespective of the criteria

5.     Existing arms deals can’t be broken regardless of the behavior of the recipient

While this situation is very critical and disappointing, we still believe that states can reach to a consensus to bring about what is being seen as the most important initiative toward regulation of global trade in conventional weapons: A robust and comprehensive Arms Trade Treaty with the highest international standards.

The African states (except Tanzania), the CARICOM and ECOWAS group will not bow down to pressure. The ATT must include clear and strong provisions on ammunitions, and human rights and international humanitarian laws or there will be no treaty. 

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