Arms Trade Treaty: let the negotiating begin...

This week we're at the UN in New York with government representatives from around the world as they meet for the last time before returning in July to thrash out the details of the first ever treaty aimed at controlling the deadly arms trade. If you’re interested in the details, read our first blog

Day one was standing room only. I spent most of the first session crouched against the corner at the back of the room - literally the only space left in the conference hall. You could feel the drama. Many states were waiting to read the mood of others before making interventions (UN speak for giving a statement at one of these meetings).

There was a lot of talking. Before we could really get started, a full two hours were spent discussing whether or not to accept the agenda as circulated. And then the sceptical voices started to dominate. Egypt, for example, spoke for nearly 20 minutes. The average length of these interventions is under five. Sadly it already seems clear that the game plan for the cynical states this week is to use procedural rules to frustrate and delay the process.

Speaking of frustration – a delegate from Iran took the floor to highlight the fact that for the third time during treaty negotiation process the delegates from Iran had been denied entry visas to the US and couldn't participate. The US hasn't spoken yet - I wonder if they'll confront this issue when they do…

Let the right ones in

The debate about participation of NGO's and other members of civil society came early to the floor. The current draft text likely restricts NGO access to just the main plenary sessions, and not the working groups or committee's where much of the substance of the treaty will actually be agreed. Mexico, Norway, Sweden and the UK spoke up strongly for wider NGO access, Mexico and Norway in particular suggesting that the whole conference should remain open.

The UK and Sweden were more reticent, arguing for greater openness and access, but stopped short of calling for full participation. These were general observations, so this debate is not over. But if we lose this particular debate it raises the real possibility that much of the most important discussions at the final conference in July will be had in secret and behind closed doors. Not ideal.

Our main task over coming days will be to get as many states as possible to call for the conference to be open and transparent.

UK must show leadership (we're going to keep on about this)

Some good news was the UK government responding to pressure from Amnesty and others by being more vocal. In just one morning they made three interventions. That’s almost more than they made during the entire meeting last time. I hope this is a sign of the UK’s promised re-energising and return to prominence of its role in this whole process.

While we’re here, we’re continuing to lobby representatives from the UK government. As Amnesty's joint letter to The Guardian explains, it is vital that the treaty does more than pay lip service to human rights. If you’ve got a few minutes, please email Cameron and Clegg and ask them to publicly support an effective Treaty

Coming attractions

Tomorrow, it looks like we’ll face one of the most controversial aspects for discussion here - the consensus rule.

Quick explainer: the consensus rule is one option on the table for how decisions will be voted on during the final negotiations in July. Certain versions of this rule would give states the right to a veto, meaning that even if just one state wants to block progress they would have the power to do so regardless of the overwhelming majority. If this element of the rule was to stand those countries sceptical about the inclusion of human rights in the treaty could use their vote to water down the treaty. From what we’ve heard so far, they would be willing to use this veto for any decision made on the treaty text.

If they win the argument and this form of consensus rule is adopted, it makes it much more likely that the Treaty will be stripped of a number of fundamentals including: core human rights; international law and poverty rules; a much reduced scope of equipment covered; and weak enforcement, criminalisation and public reporting commitments. If you want to know why all of these things are important, read a blog from my colleague here with me in New York

It's my second time participating at one of these Prep Cons and I can’t help but be struck by the importance of language - the multiple meanings the same word can have when used by different people. The perspectives here are wildly varied, States are passionate about their sovereignty and divisions old and new (some completely separate to this process) still permeate these words and the meanings they hold. 

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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