March in Tunis

On the World Social Forum – Tunisia, March 26-30

by nathan thanki

The dust having finally settled following the first ever World Social Forum in the Arab world, which took place at El Manar University in Tunis from March 26-30, we must ask ourselves some tough questions about the future of the Forum.

The event was highly anticipated, with many activists from a variety of social movements being drawn to and intrigued by post-revolution Tunisia, and procedures got underway on the 26th with a march through streets that just over two years ago bore witness to the start of the “Arab Spring.” The excitement on the streets was palpable, but it was immediately confined as the Forum took up its three day residence in the university campus.

Tunisian activists complained bitterly about the tight control of the space by the Tunisian government. As a result, many did not participate in the Forum. Graffiti on banners welcoming the Forum to Tunis displayed the mood: many are frustrated with the Forum for taking corporate sponsorship as well as for charging registration fees. And while the Forum was further criticised for lacking voices from Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, the university was buzzing with delegations from across the Middle East and North Africa who seemed to take advantage of the opportunity to have face to face meetings en masse to cross-pollinate strategies for their respective struggles.

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The Arms Trade Treaty has come to its end but states parties fail to adopt an agreement.

By Angeline Annesteus

The UN conference on the Arms Trade Treaty comes to its end but as always a lot can happen in the last minutes of the negotiations. Yesterday, the chair of the negotiations released a new draft text but it is full of potential loopholes. Many different areas of the text would need to be reconsidered in order for the treaty to meet its overall goal and objective: a robust, comprehensive treaty with the highest possible common standards

One of the most serious loopholes is in article 5.2 of the text which states that implementation of this treaty shall not be cited as grounds for voiding contractual obligations under defense cooperation agreements concluded by States Parties to this Treaty.

This is just one of the many drafting challenges that would for instance allow exporters, according to this article, to continue to sell weapons to governments even in instances where the weapons will likely violate International Human Rights and Humanitarian Laws.

Key blockers

The key blockers are USA, India, Russia, the African States, CARICOM and China. Each blocker presents a different issue but this time China is apparently trying to avoid a great escape. Article 2 B (3) of the consolidated text states "this Treaty shall apply to those activities of the international trade in conventional arms….. under the scope of this Treaty". According to China and many other delegates, the article provides a serious gasp because states can evade control of weapons through gifting weapons or military assistance programs.

The African states, did not allow for a consensus to be reached because of the exclusions of ammunition under scope and the lack of full inclusion of gender-based armed violence under the treaty. The concerns of the African states are legitimate. For decades, the continent has suffered from armed violence, civil wars, and human right abuses including lack of socio-economic development due to illicit and irresponsible arms transfer.

Similarly, conflict in and around Africa has made military spending a necessity in the region where almost all countries have focused on securing their territories instead of working to mitigate poverty. The Stockholm International Peace Research (SIPRI) acknowledges that in 2008, $ 20.4 billion has spent in military spending in Africa with Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia accounting for 40% of it. Rapidly growing revenues or emerging countries in the region, including South Africa, have been made considerable investments in purchasing arms for security purposes as well.

The clock is ticking and the ATT is at a high risk a failure but Africa cannot stand for a weak ATT in the name of consensus. They are the most affected by the direct and indirect consequences of the irresponsible arms trade that causes the lost of millions of lives and holds back socio-economical development. The world, but most particularly Africa, needs a strong and robust ATT with the highest common standards possible.

We lost an historic opportunity today but the battle will continue. Governments will have a second chance to make the treaty a reality by taking the text forward to the General Assembly in the fall. 

The Arms Trade Treaty and the P5’s dilemma

By Angeline Annesteus

 

With one day left to conclude the first ever Arms Trade Treaty, the African states, CARICOM, NGOS, and other delegations urge the P5 to close the remaining gaps in the treaty text that is now under negotiations.

The whole point is that nobody is supposed to be making profit by transferring arms to governments or any armed group that will use them to attack civilians. The P5 (China, Russia, UK, France, US) are the five permanent Security Council members, and along with Germany they are responsible for 74% of global arms deal. Meanwhile, the P5 are also responsible to maintain peace and security. The P5’s dilemma is that there is a conflict between peace and profit and that they have no other choice than choosing one or another.

Despite the pressure from Washington, France and UK have been key champions advocating for peace and security throughout the negotiations. They believe that an Arms Trade Treaty that does not include strong provisions on ammunitions and Human Rights and International Humanitarian rules will not serve as an effective tool for preventing the deadly consequences of the poorly unregulated International Arms Trade.

China, Russia, and the US are still uncertain. They all wish to promote peace and security but with putting a band aid on a serious issue. China is calling for weak provisions on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Laws while the US is asking for the exclusions of ammunitions. In fact, the US has made clear that they prioritize profit over peace. In April16 of 2012, the head of the US delegation, Thomas Countryman, had reiterated the US position on his remarks at Stimson Center:

The US has made our position on one other issue very clear in the preliminary discussions with international partners. Many states and organizations –many of them without major armaments industries or significant international arms trade – have sought to include ammunition in the scope of an ATT. The United States, which produces over seven billion rounds of ammunition a year, has resisted those efforts on the grounds that including ammunition is hugely impractical.

It’s hard to believe that the US would not want to regulate the international movement of ammunitions when they know that of the 12 billions of ammunition produced each year, huge amounts of them fuel all forms of armed conflict globally. As Nigeria points it out, a weapon is only a weapon when there is ammunition inserted. Without strict control on ammunition, it’s less likely that states will be able to control the hundreds of millions of weapons that are already in circulation. States parties have to put tight regulations on ammunitions to help control the weapons that are already in circulation and are responsible for 750.000 deaths yearly as a result of armed violence.

As for now, we remain optimistic that states parties will not miss this unique opportunity to make the most important step toward regulation of global arms trade that will save the life of millions of civilians around the globe. 

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. 

Africa: Do not bow down to pressure, A Bullet Proof Arms Trade Treaty or no Treaty

By Alyne Cistone

 

I woke up this morning feeling sad and disfranchised. Yesterday was a defining moment in the Arms Trade Treaty Negotiation process. The first draft of the ATT was finally tabled in plenary and for the first time, we all had a chance to get a sense of whether a comprehensive ATT was within reach by Friday.

The item that struck a painful code for not just me but most African countries was the exclusion of Ammunition from within the scope of the text.  Memories of friends and families of friends that have perished and continue to perish through gun violence came flooding back. How deserving they are of a law that would prevent the same happening to others!

 Until now, African states have played a key role in calling for a strong Arms Trade Treaty. With just three days to go on the treaty negotiations, campaigners are calling on Africa to hold firm and resist any pressure to cave in on key issues like ammunition.

“Africa is awash with small arms and ammunition, but what is a gun without a bullet? African states have a key role to play on the outcome of the negotiations for a robust arms trade treaty which includes controls on the trade and transfers of small arms and ammunition. Africa must hold firm and resist any pressure to cave in on key issues like ammunition.” Said Baffour Amoa, President of the West African Action Network on Small Arms (WAANSA).

Africa is one of the regions in the world most affected by the impact of armed conflict. Weapons have flowed into the region for decades devastating the lives and livelihoods of countless people. The economic cost of conflict for Africa is also high – with armed conflict costing an average of $18bn per year.

“Every day, I see the impact of armed violence on my community the same scenes unfold in hospitals and clinics across Africa.  There are more than 50 African states taking part in the negotiations – they have the future of so many lives in their hands. They must use their courage and continue to fight for the strong treaty Africa deserves.” Said Dr. Robert Mtonga, Co-President of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.

Last week, Malawi delivered a statement outlining the minimum humanitarian principles that must be included in the treaty signed by 73 other states, including 22 from Africa. This included an unequivocal call for the treaty to encompass all conventional arms, including small arms, light weapons and ammunitions.

As well as ammunition, another critical focus during the final days of negotiations is on the steps governments will be required to take before deciding whether an arms transfer should go ahead or not.

Amnesty International recently documented arms supplies from China, Sudan and Ukraine, which triggered indiscriminate attacks by both the South Sudanese Armed Forces and armed opposition groups in South Sudan. If the treaty has strong criteria that protect human rights, then such arms transfers would not be allowed to take place in future.

Africa has so much to lose this week if the treaty is weak or has big gaps in it which allow irresponsible or illicit transfers to continue. The inclusion of small arms, light weapons and ammunition must be non-negotiable – these are the weapons of mass destruction in Africa” added Robert Mtonga.

Tackling corruption in the poorly-regulated, international arms trade is also a growing concern amongst African states, particularly Ghana, Zambia and Nigeria, who say corruption is mainly responsible for some of the major difficulties that exist in accounting and reporting on arms transfers.

They say the treaty needs to have the strength to clamp down on corruption at different stages in the arms pipeline in order to have maximum benefit.  There are also concerns that the loophole that allows states to give weapons/military equipment as gifts should also be closed.

“We need to see real progress now on many important areas – particularly on small arms, light weapons and ammunitions. But we are running out of time now with less than three days of negotiations left. I call on all those states that have shown an interest in protecting lives in Africa to demonstrate their commitment now.”  Concluded Baffour Amoa.

The final negotiated text of the first ever Arms Trade Treaty is expected this coming Friday.