Make love not loopholes
Love was truly in the air today at the UN Arms Trade Treaty talks, being of course valentines day. Some handed out roses, we handed out campaign stickers. Our message to delegates: “Show some love for the arms trade treaty” and “make love not loopholes”.
The arms trade crowd here in conference Room Four at the United Nations clearly preferred our stickers to the more traditional floral tributes of affection, as evidenced by the number of delegations proudly displaying them throughout the day. Budding romantics who may also have an interest in the rules of procedure governing an international arms trade treaty - take note!
Perhaps surprisingly, China was the first delegation to wish everyone a happy valentines day.
As the saying goes, all is fair in love and war and clear battle grounds were drawn on the floor of the UN day today. Readers of my first blog this week will know how I like a good Rule. Today’s hot Rules were 33, 35 and 57 (clause 2). These three Rules and how they are formulated - even by the modification, deletion or addition of a single word - could have a major impact on our chances of success in July's negotiations.
Rule 33 and 35 deal with the relationship between efforts to achieve consensus on the content of the treaty, and allowing a two thirds majority for other decisions. Or not: sceptical states, spearheaded by those representing the Arab group, want to ensure that all decisions of the conference are taken by an absolute consensus on every paragraph. In other words they want an effective veto – essentially the right to block - to any decision taken. Others, like the USA, want absolute consensus to only be required for the adoption of the final text. This would mean that decisions along the way to that final text could be determined according to a two thirds majority rule, but that there would need to be full consensus on the adoption of the final treaty.
Many states, most notably Germany, spoke strongly about the dangers of allowing such a strict definition of consensus as it is likely to drive the Treaty down so that content is watered down to achieve the lowest level of support that can be considered universal agreement. In other words, this rule would almost certainly produce a weak, ineffective and useless Arms Trade Treaty. If you want to know why we need it to be robust, check out Amnesty UK Director Kate Allen’s blog
Rule 57 clause 2 deals with NGO access to the conference and its working groups and committees. Whilst there was a lot of love expressed in the room for the valuable role we play, the exact role we will play comes down to one word. Changing one word could essentially mean we are in the room during all substantive discussions, or shut out from them. The current draft is the weaker formulation, stipulating the default positions to keep all but the main plenary sessions closed and private unless stated otherwise. Norway and Mexico and other progressive voices are supporting efforts to reverse this Rule, so the default position is that all the negotiations remain open, unless specified otherwise.
It was also good to hear several states talking about content. Many states spoke up strongly to remind delegates how important it is to keep small arms and ammunition in the scope of the treaty.
Very significantly, Netherlands spoke up about including non-lethal internal security equipment like Tear Gas within the treaty’s scope. We like that - as far as I am aware they’re the first government to formally call for this. But the inclusion of this type of equipment is crucial if the Treaty is to help protect Human Rights.
And a reminder
Two powerful statements by the DRC and Liberia provided tragic reminders of the overwhelming humanitarian need for an effective treaty. Both countries were literally torn apart by the misuse of a wide variety of conventional arms, and are now struggling to re-build their societies. It's a staggering and sobering fact, and one which the DRC delegate reminded the conference of, that a decade of conflict may have cost 5 million lives that that country alone.
There was another good intervention from the UK today, reminding the floor that the Rules of Procedure must be written in a way that allows a good outcome in July, and for the UK this means a robust and effective Treaty. They pointed out that negotiating the Treaty is not a means to an end, it's a platform on which to build tough and effective controls on the arms trade in future years. It is for this reason we must build the foundations to the highest possible standards. This is why it is so important that the UK Government refuses to compromise on human rights in the Treaty. Email Cameron and Clegg now
Keeping in the humanitarian theme, it was inspiring to hear Dr Oscar Arias, twice former president of Costa Rica, and Amnesty's Suzan Waltz - both instrumental in starting the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) process back in the mid-1990s - speak at a lunchtime event. The following excerpt of Dr Aria's speech encapsulates perfectly the responsibly of all governments to agree a strong and effective ATT. I leave you with his words.
“Countries will ask why they should sacrifice any of their own sovereignty or discretion, voluntarily, to support our cause. My answer to them is that no definition of sovereignty can include the freedom to enable the violation of human rights, the murder of the innocent, the oppression of the world’s neediest and most helpless. No definition of national security or self-defense allows room for such acts”
Dr Oscar Arias, ATT Preparatory committee, February 14th 2010
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.