Skip to main content
Amnesty International UK
Log in

Arms Trade Treaty blocked - this isn't failure, this is 'success deferred'.

Yet again in the final hours, the Arms Trade Treaty was blocked. This time because of a cynical move by Iran, Syria and North Korea.

In the Byzantine world of the UN, the exchange between the Chair and the three wreckers was so polite with so much mutual thanks that it was almost funny.  After an hour of frantic behind the scenes negotiating following the three governments’ statements – ones  that appeared to suggest they would block the Treaty - the Chair returned to the conference and asked for absolute clarity as to whether they were in fact blocking, and wanted to prevent the treaty from being adopted.

They all replied that yes indeed they were absolutely clear, they were blocking, whilst again thanking the Chair for asking them to be clear, who in return thanked them for their clarity. Of course it wasn't funny.

In the real world, the irony beyond irony is that these three governments, themselves with abysmal human rights records (evidence, if you need it can be found in our recent reports on Syria, Iran and North Korea), had chosen to block a Treaty that would have prevented the supply of arms to those very types of human rights abusers. A Treaty that would have saved millions of lives. So the Arms Trade Treaty is over...?

HELL NO! You see. the Treaty's planners had a back-up plan. A skilfully crafted UN resolution that mandated the UN General Assembly (UNGA) to take over if the Conference failed to reach consensus on the text. The UNGA does not require a consensus, it requires a majority. No state can block it. 

We are tantalisingly close, but nearly getting there will do nothing for the millions of people suffering as a result of the irresponsible arms trade. We need to make sure that this time when the UN votes, it gets the majority in favour it needs. We need to make sure that they adopt the Treaty that the world so desperately needs. Until we have it in our hands I am taking nothing for granted.

That said, as the talks drew to a close last night there were certainly signs that we have reason for cautious optimism.

The twists and turns on the UN negotiating floor

In a late session of high drama, Mexico suggested we go wild and just ignore Syria, Iran and North Korea and vote the Treaty through then and there. Several governments backed them and revolution almost came to the quiet and intense negotiating chambers of the UN. However, even revolution at the UN requires a due process, so we don't vote last night, but we do vote soon.  

The draft Treaty will be taken to the UN General Assembly. It will be sent jointly by the UK, Kenya, Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Norway, Mexico, the USA, Japan, Nigeria and Finland for adoption as soon as possible. It has the overwhelming support of the governments who have spent seven years tirelessly negotiating in good faith at the UN. The UK has listened to your actions and been making consistently strong statements on the Treaty. Last night, FCO Minister Alistair Burt (the Minister responsible for the Treaty) tweeted:

 ‘UK will not allow Iran, North Korea and Syria to deny the will of millions’

So I am disappointed that the conference was blocked tonight in the most cynical way by three governments, but that disappointment is tempered with the fact that we’re so nearly there. I still believe that the will of the majority will win, and there is little doubt in my mind that the Arms Trade Treaty will be adopted this year, and that it  will save lives.

To quote the powerful worlds of Ambassador Jo Adamson – the UK's lead negotiator for the Arms Trade Treaty, “tonight isn't failure. It is Success Deferred” Tonight we will all drink to that!

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.
View latest posts