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The ups and downs of the Arms Trade Treaty negotiations

Breaking news 5.45pm 16 February

The UK has firmly committed to robust and effective Arms Trade Treaty covering all convention weapons, including small arms and ammunition. They also said that the Treaty must reflect values such as human rights and international law.

Clearly the pressure you've been putting on the UK government is working and we are nearly there. This might sound like everything we've been asking for, but there is still more to do:

While this is a very positive step in the right direction, what we really need are caste iron guarantees that the UK will help ensure arms sales and deliveries are stopped if it seems that serious violations of human rights will occur. To do so, they must support the inclusion of language to this effect in the Treaty. Some governments want very weak provisions, or none at all, making these rules optional -  potentially allowing irresponsible arms sales to continue. 

We need you to Keep up the pressure. We still have not heard from David Cameron and we want him to show that this is a top priority for the UK government. Email Cameron and Clegg now

Back to the blog

We're now just over half way through the last preparatory conference focussed on the creation of an international Arms Trade Treaty. And, let me tell you, it is hard work! Governments and civil society care deeply, albeit about sometimes very different versions of this Treaty. But, nevertheless, they care deeply and are working hard to reach agreement on the rules and procedure that will govern the final talks in July.

Today Olly and I met with many States. Speaking to representatives from Pacific countries, issues of international cooperation and assistance really hit home. A major area of concern for these countries, particularly the smaller States, is implementation. With limited resources, the burden of reporting that is being suggested as part of the Treaty will create real problems. We need to enshrine partnership and capacity building in the Treaty because without such support, many of these countries - however willing - will struggle to fully comply.

For countries with developed export control systems and technology such as the UK, who we also met, the burden is not a new or onerous one. Read our report on implementing the Treaty, and the need for transparent reporting (pdf)

We take to the stage

Civil society participation has been a hot topic this week, with NGO's being thanked by numerous States for their contribution during the whole process. Today it was our turn to contribute through a set of formal presentations to the UN member states about issues important to the civil society movement.

First to take the floor was The World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities, an organisation that claims to represent more than one hundred million hunters and sports shooters. Ted Rowe, the President, spoke briefly, his main message being "I would implore the body to exempt civilian firearms from the scope of an ATT. I would further implore the body to exempt all ammunition from the ATT".

An Arms Trade Treaty that has no control over bullets? Hmmm…You probably don't need reminding that without controls on all types of weapon and ammunition the Treaty will never fulfil its potential to save lives and stop weapons getting into the hands of those who will use them to commit human rights abuses.

Jeff Abramson - head of the Control Arms coalition put the counter argument beautifully: "we frequently hear the claim that the treaty would interfere with US gun ownership, in particular those based on the Second Amendment. Such arguments are factually bankrupt and morally indefensible. Vigorously shouted claims that the ATT is a way to "take away their guns" is an accurate as saying that those opposing the treaty wish to "internationally arm terrorists to kill US soldiers". Please, let us stop this nonsense and talk about the actual treaty effort upon which we are all engaged”.

Costing the Treaty

As though responding to this plea Dr. Omolade Oladejo from International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War spoke about her work which revolves around the health consequences of armed violence. Some of the facts she delivered to the conference are staggering. For example, in Nigeria, the average health expenditure per individual is $69 a year. "By contrast, treatment for a recent case, a man injured by armed violence cost $460 for just the first two weeks in hospital, with many more weeks of medical care ahead of him then untold months or years of additional rehabitliation for the emotional and psychological trauma. This is but one of the devastating costs of armed violence".

Dr. Oladejo further explained that the medical cost to treat a young girl in Nepal hit by a stray bullet is the equivalent of 3.5 years of her father’s salary - or enough to equip an entire health centre in her village. In Nairobi, Kenya, medical care to repair a jaw shattered by a gunshot costs the equivalent of immunisations for 250 children.
With talk about this treaty costing too much or being overly burdensome her arguments are a timely reminder that the opposite is true - the cost of not having this treaty is simply too high.

A broader perspective

The vast majority of people in the UK don't live in fear of armed violence as a daily reality. For most of us it's safe to go to the shops and it's possible to go through your entire live without ever hearing live gunfire. As these examples show, for so many people in so many countries that isn't the case.

Conventional arms often assist in the perpetration of serious violations of human rights such as torture, the excessive use of force by security forces, extrajudicial executions, forced evictions and disappearances. If an ATT is to be an effective legal instrument in regulating the international arms trade, the inclusion of human rights and humanitarian law is key.

Transparency International UK, who work to reduce corruption in defence and security establishments worldwide, highlighted that even with these legal frameworks, there remains a risk that the effectiveness of stronger controls on the arms trade being proposed as part of the Arms Trade Treaty could still be undermined by corruption. They suggested that the risk of corruption is considered alongside the other factors (such as human rights issues above) in deciding whether or not to approve individual arms sales. They urged that states continue to press for language to be included in the treaty that addresses the risk of corruption.

Please continue to call on Clegg and Cameron to support a bulletproof treaty.

Highs and lows

Time takes on a different meaning here at UN talks, days are packed with debate, discussion and real global politics. I go from feeling completely optimistic open minute when a State like Trinidad and Tabago or Mexico speaks, to deflated and worried when the Chair asks for closed sessions or the French position on concensus takes us the steps back. The days are long and although a predominantly technical debate there is still emotion in the room. We are after all talking about finally controlling the deadly trade in arms, something that with the current lack of controls contributes to halting devopment and abusing people's rights.

As Dr. Oladejo put it "with ambitious vision, good will, cooperation, political capital and very long July nights, an ATT that actually matters is within reach for the international community".

Let's go get it people - ask David Cameron and nick clegg to speak up with the conviction of Dr. Oladejo, Jeff Abramson and all of the other campaigners out here.

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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We are rooting for you back home!

angus watson 12 years ago

You said it is hard work at the conference and I'm sure that is an immense understatement. Keep strong, and hopefully your efforts will be worthwhile.
It appears the UK are heading in the right direction. Hopefully other countries will follow.

jodan 12 years ago