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Still everything to play for with an arms treaty

It’s late on Thursday evening on day four of the Arms Trade Treaty preparatory conference. As I write, states participating in the conference have as yet not reached an agreement on the crucial rules of procedure that will determine how decisions in the final treaty will be taken.

Still everything to play for

We’re going into the final day of discussions with a sense of anxiety and uncertainty. If anything, views on approaches to creating treaty rules seem to have hardened, rather than reconciled, in the last 24 hours. There seem to be almost irreconcilable differences between the role of absolute consensus (and its effective right to veto any decision, paragraph by paragraph) and the role of a two thirds majority decision (which will allow the treaty to be developed by a majority process).

No government I have talked to today has a clear view on how and what deal might be struck. But for every minute that governments continue to argue and wrangle about what must seem to most people abstract and arcane rules of procedure, in the world outside of the UN debating chambers, the irresponsible trade in arms continues to kill, main, torture and oppress thousands of people around the world.

Punctuating the tension with some light relief

Even against the backdrop of tense discussions, there were moments of humour today. As often happens in these most formal of forums where there is often genuine and real disagreement over substance or language, tension is punctuated by funny moments.

The last time I blogged, it was Valentine’s Day; today it was grammar and erroneous commas that had crept into the Chair’s report of the Preparatory conference process. The UK, The Netherlands, Iran and Cuba joined in the linguistic pedants’ banter across the floor – perhaps a new future country grouping of grammar geeks?

Bangladesh sets an example

Today I had a long and detailed meeting with the delegate of Bangladesh. Bangladesh’s statement to the conference yesterday was one of the few to support Amnesty's core human rights rule that says any arms sales or deliveries should be stopped where it is foreseeable that those arms would be used to commit atrocities. In fact, Bangladesh remains probably the strongest champion in South East Asia – a region where the sceptics very much outnumber the supporters.

Yet for Bangladesh to remain a strong champion of human rights in the treaty, it will need considerable support. It is one of many governments that remain committed to the principle of a robust and effective treaty but who will need assistance and capacity to help develop their own export control systems, administrative and legal frameworks to enforce any future treaty.

This is a powerful reminder of the importance of international cooperation and assistance being included in the treaty framework. So many potential champions of the arms treaty will need assistance and support to enable them to commit to the treaty – yet this crucial aspect of discussion has hardly been mentioned this week.

UK edges closer to safeguarding human rights in the treaty

Happily, I can end a day of uncertainty on a positive note – campaigning can impact these decisions!

Earlier this afternoon, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, following all of our collective campaigning over recent days, posted the following on his Facebook page:

“The final Preparatory Committee meeting on the Arms Trade Treaty is taking place in New York this week. I have received lots of comments on the ATT on Facebook this week, particularly focusing on human rights. The UK has played a key role in driving forward efforts to secure the Treaty since introducing the initial UN Resolution in 2006, and the Government remains totally committed to securing a robust and effective Arms Trade Treaty, with strong human rights and international law provisions at its core.”

Facebook post from William Hague on the arms trade treaty

This statement shows the extent to which all of your emails, tweets and Facebook posts have had a direct impact on the UK Government’s foreign policy on the Arms Trade Treaty! Who'd have thought that Facebook is now a tool of direct diplomacy?

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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UK appear to be giving the correct message and it is good that William Hague is taking notice. Hopefully others will follow.
The intensity of the meetings must be making you quite weary . Keep strong.

jodan 12 years ago

I've just received a strong comment from Ed Milliband calling for a robust and effective treaty which is very welcome. Although he does seem to suffer from "political amnesia" as regards the past :

As the FT noted in April 2011 as regards UK arms sales :

"Export licence approvals since January 2009 have covered components for military helicopters in Algeria; submachineguns and teargas to Bahrain; machineguns to Egypt; and hand grenades to Jordan. British companies have also sold small arms ammunition to Syria, hand grenades, sniper rifles and teargas to Saudi Arabia and shotguns to Morocco."

If this is the case then it is not impossible that the UK has supplied the ammunition that is currently being used in Syria. This is a clear indicator that this treaty must also be wide reaching and cover these areas as well.

Nice to see a quote from William Hague but would also like a reply from both Coalition leaders in support as well.

Daveyboy 12 years ago