Arms Trade Treaty: The final hours

Want to get straight to the loopholes? Skip ahead

At 4pm yesterday (9pm UK time, if you're counting), a packed UN conference room received the final draft of the Arms Trade Treaty from Ambassador Moritan.

After nearly 20 years of campaigning and six years of work at the United Nations it all comes down to this.

As I write, the conference has just finished for the night. It’s  1.15am. The last two final informal consultations on the text start at 9. They’re allowing us all to get at least some sleep before the final push.

It’s been a roller coaster journey over the last month as the pace of negotiations stepped up. It's been with full of frustrations , tensions, highs and lows, with our key demands appearing then disappearing then re-appearing from the plethora of conference working papers that were presented in the final weeks.

If you've followed us this week, you'll have seen our reaction to Tuesday's draft was less than enthusiastic. The draft was problematic, containing many serious loopholes and get out clauses that would have delivered a document that was seriously flawed and failed to live up to the robust and comprehensive agreement that was necessary to save lives and protect human rights. 

Our colleagues at Oxfam described the text as having more holes than a leaky bucket, and they weren't wrong. 

What worried us

Tuesday's text contained major loopholes. Parts and ammunition weren't subject to the same strong criteria as other arms categories; meaning a country couldn't sell something like attack helicopters, but could keep selling the parts to keep existing helicopters in the air, therefore maintaining their ability to keep committing the same human rights abuses. 

Light artillery, rockets, grenades and tear gas were missing from the 'scope' of the treaty. There was no requirement for countries to criminalise breaking the rules, and transfers of arms that weren't 'sales', such as gifting the weapons, or offering them in exchange for other in-kind goods, were exempt. Frankly, it didn't look good. 

Today's text - we have moved a step closer to the Arms Trade Treaty

So often over the twenty years of this campaign we've said we don't just want any arms trade treaty, we need the arms treaty - the one that ensures that transfers of all conventional weapons are stopped when there is a risk they will be used to commit  human rights abuses. And last night's text is close. 

The good, the not so good and the bad

The good: Thanks to over 11,000 of you sending a strong message to Alistair Burt, and to intense behind-the-scenes negotiations in New York led by the UK, France and other progressive countries, a lot of Tuesday's loopholes have been closed. 

There now is a clause in there requiring states to criminalise breaking the rules. On the equipment, a quick fix with adding the words “at a minimum” has helped ensure that the rather narrow list of equipment covered in the scope can be expanded by those countries wanting to be more comprehensive. 

Ammunition and components are much improved. You will have to look hard to spot them, but in the sometimes bizzare world of the last minute deals struck in multilateral negotiations they have found a fix by inserting  them into another section of the text. It's not perfect, but at least it means these items will be subject to the Treaty's human rights rules at a minimum. 

As many Governments, including the UK, said late light night, there is no logical reason why both ammunition and weapons components should not be in the list of covered items.

The bad: Some big loopholes still remain, and in these final hours of negotiations, we need your help to close them.

Firstly, the text only applies to the “international trade in conventional arms”. This means that weapons that are gifted or supplied through military assistance programmes would be exempt from the controls. There is also a clause relating to the need to respect contractual arrangements in place for these types of deals. This is a potentially huge loophole for states to exploit.

Secondly, the requirement that states must produce public reports of all the arms deals they've been involved with each year is not strong enough. It needs a tiny tweak to the text to ensure the obligation to make annual reports  public is explicit. Without public reporting, there is a danger that we and our parliaments won't be able to hold our governments to account and ensure they are implementing the Arms Trade Treaty  in good faith.

As Verity has said - your messages, tweets and emails are helping us make real progress. Now we need your help for the final push. We've got to pull out all the stops today and the UKand other governments must keep firm so that sceptical states can't take us backwards in these last 24 hours of negotiations. 

If you only ever take one action on behalf of Amnesty, make it this one

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
1 comment

Let's cut through the spin, even by Amnesty itself on these negotiations. Every member of the UN must realise that strong regulations of the arms trade is good for all humanity. There are and have been plenty of examples to highlight this. If they don't recognise this I would question what they are doing within the UN !! So why after 3 weeks of negotiations has there been so little proper consensus except in rhetorical form ? It can only be due to political self interests and not based on morality.

Unfortunately this is the fuel that seems to run negotiations within the UN, and this has been shown within the P5 nations. Many people are putting their belief within the majority of govts to sway these powerful individuals for the future. This is unlikely, certainly for the foreseeable future due to the US election and past indicators within the UN do not bode well. What the "majority" need to realise is that the system is broke from within and it is actually the UN itself that needs reform. If reform does occur in the future then this organisation can surely be a true indicator for global peace and security.

Daveyboy 5 years ago