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An Arms Trade Treaty is coming. Not today, but it is coming

Update 7 November 2012 - An Arms Trade Treaty one step closer after resounding UN  vote


The 2012 UN General Assembly has seen the biggest showing of support for the Treaty yet - 157 governments have voted in favour of a final negotiating conference next March. Find out more about the vote


We're optimistic we can still get a Treaty that saves thousands lives and improves many more, but it can only do so if it rules out transfers where there is risk that they would directly contribute to human rights abuses.

A month of negotiations for the first ever Arms Trade Treaty has ended at the UN with a reasonably strong draft text and a second chance. We came so close to getting the Treaty we have all worked so hard for but at the last minute the US said they needed more time and led the way for sceptical countries to stall the process. It is far from over.

The UN meets again in October and then we won’t need consensus – just a majority.  There is a lot to do before then to keep up the pressure but we remain optimistic we can get a Treaty that protects human rights and saves lives.

Here our campaigner Verity, who has been at the UN battling for the Treaty, reflects on the last day of the talks and tells us what happens next.

Bullies exist in every form of life unfortunately.

You won't be surprised to hear that the UN, a place based on cooperation, peace and security, has its fair share. Today I saw this in its crudest form - when the US stalled the hard work of many in one fell swoop

This was played out in the last minute way the US chose to throw its considerable amount of weight around, saying it didn't have time to get approval from Capitol – from the Whitehouse - on the draft text. In doing so it scuppered all hope of what was starting to look like agreement on the (not perfect but reasonable) draft text for the arms trade treaty that 193 Governments had worked on for the last month together at the UN.

So, as you can probably tell, I'm angry.

And I think that's ok. Like many people I care deeply about this, and believe that a strong Treaty would have a hugely positive impact on our world. It still can.

The anger will pass.

What's important is what happens next. The title of this blog comes from Ambassador Jo Adamson, the head of the UK government delegation here in NYC. In her closing remarks, she noted that when we look forward we should think about the lives we will save and the injuries we will prevent.

You should all feel incredibly proud to hear these words. The UK government’s support for a strong Treaty is in no small part down to the work you have done up and down the country, urging MPs to get behind it. In only the last two days over 12,000 of you wrote to Minister Burt – the Minister leading on the Treaty – telling him it’s time to deliver. And, as the Ambassador’s words show, your voice was heard on the negotiating floor.

It was also heard at the highest levels of government, with Foreign Secretary William Hague saying today that the UK is committed to 'maintain the momentum and to complete this crucial work as soon as possible'

So, where next?

Amnesty was in this from the start and will be in it until the treaty is a reality. Signed, ratified, and entered into force.

And this is where the anger starts to pass because actually, we now have a second chance. In October the UN meets again. We are confident that at that meeting a strong and robust Treaty can be agreed. This hope was reinforced when the conference closed with over 90 countries signing a statement saying they’d like to see the process succeed as soon as possible.

At that meeting in October we no longer need to strive for consensus between all 193 states – we just need enough to get a two thirds majority . But there is a lot of work to do before then to make this Treaty a reality. We must keep the pressure up. This is too important to give up on now.

A silver lining to the delay is that we have the opportunity to iron out some of the problems that remain with the final draft of the Treaty; we still have the opportunity to improve it. And if the cost of a robust Treaty that actually stops the irresponsible arms trade from fuelling human rights abuses is a few more months and more campaigning then bring it on!

But for now, it's time to take stock. We've been working long, long hours, constantly challenged and striving to do more: send clearer messages, influence, lobby and persuade.

Together we have taken this campaign to the next level. Together we will finish the job. We have to because so many people are depending on us. I’ll be in touch soon with an action plan. In the meantime I leave you with one message: we can do this!

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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I've read on this site and others a lot of talk about the majority overcoming the minority at the UN to push through a strong ATT. Firstly anybody making these statements probably needs to look closely at the past and present history of the UN to reflect on them. Even from its beginnings this hasn't occurred, up to the present situation regarding Syria. Consensus and majorities are unimportant. If they were then the world would certainly look like a different place today.

Interestingly there shouldn't be a minority regarding this issue, as your moral compass would be adrift. Nobody can deny that a strong ATT is the correct way forward, particularly as regards human rights. Therefore other factors must be in play.

As regards timelines. I can't see how the treaty will become any stronger in October ? Surely it can only retrograde as if it was suitable now it would be in the bag ? Also the US have an election in November which I suspect they will have more than one eye on Capitol Hill etc. and may well sway their compass.

Daveyboy 11 years ago

Any country selling weapons to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Bahrain is not going to be interested in human rights or a binding arms trade treaty, and for the same reasons, Amnesty itself has not called for a universal arms embargo on Syria!

Watch the IED explode underneath the Syrian tank, the FSA have detonated hundreds of such devices in Syrian cities! Entire streets have been flattened. Each one like a no-warning car bomb devastating the neighborhood. Such weapons are made in sheds, no treaty will make a difference.

Also watch the following tank being hit with an anti-tank missile. Amnesty is not calling for export restrictions etc. So oddly enough, the folks calling loudly for tanks to be withdrawn from Syrian cities, are the Syrian mechanized military! It is the Syrian infantry and police demanding the use of tanks, for morale reasons.

The idea of the FSA being helpless against tanks is a myth, the tanks are death traps. If Amnesty isn't calling for a weapons blockade on Syria, and Amnesty is not, there is simply no point to an arms trade treaty.

It is a waste of time and without true meaning. Amnesty should instead concentrate on Russian punk groups or etc. Because on the big issues, Amnesty is all over the road, or turning in circles.

Gregory Carlin 11 years ago

This is one of the most important decisions in human history. We should publish the names of the people delaying this decision. It is out of question that we also are just humans. Nevertheless somebody has delayed the process, causing a further ongoing violation of human rights. Something would be wrong if only one of the 193 partners does not interact together with all the others in the same process and speed. There also would be the question if further trades of weapons are planned. If there is a chance to heal the eventual killing consequences of a delay with the decision please change the draft accordingly and mention that the delay shall not disturb the common time frame for the ban of the weapon trade and all the other related necessary decisions. The White House should be asked for a confirmation immediately. Thank you. Erik. 11 years ago

We know well that the Commissioners are going well, but what about Syria in order to conduct the blood and weapons in the hands of an anonymous, but do not know how to kill innocent people are now working to Syria by the bloodbath that is the weapon that take place when the process to prevent the sale of arms
Muawia khater

scosudan 11 years ago

Depressing that Barack Obama, he of the inspirational rhetoric, is taking this stance.

andrew roberts 11 years ago