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Any old Arms Trade Treaty not an option

So here I am, sitting in a cold New York, writing our first Blog on the eve of the start of the fifth and final Arms Trade Treaty preparatory negotiations, the culmination of nearly 20 years of work to establish a set of strong and effective rules to control the arms trade.

The order of business of this week is Rules of Procedure, rules that will lay the foundations for how July's historic Treaty negotiations are run and how decisions will be taken. Whilst this might seem dry, it's actually very important.

As with all previous ATT negotiations, there is a lot to play for, get these rules wrong, and we seriously hamper our chances of getting the strong and effective ATT we've spent 20 years campaigning for, one that help stops arms ending up in the hands of those that will use them to kill, torture, maim or violently suppress and brutalise people.

Rules, Rules, Rules

Before we get to this historic moment in July, we have a somewhat daunting 67 Rules of Procedure to get through. A personal favourite of mine is Rule 37 on the Method of voting, especially the bit that allows any member of state to suggest a role call should the preferred show of hands not be deemed sufficient.

There are two key decisions that will determine the outcome of the negotiations in July:

Decision Number One: Will the decision making rules give a Veto to any one state who wishes to block progress or fatally weaken the treaty or will it reflect the overwhelming majority of states who have consistently voted for a robust and effective ATT during all three UN ATT resolutions that took place in 2006, 2008 and 2009.

Decision Number Two: Will states choose to negotiate the treaty in secret behind closed doors, negotiating deals free from the gaze of public scrutiny, or will they allow full access to groups like us, Oxfam and the hundreds of member organsations or the International Action Network on Small Arms, Parliamentarians or other non-government experts and observers.

Any old treaty not an option

The ATT isn't about technical debates and diplomatic deals and fixes, it's about a set of strict rules that are necessary to stop the arms supplies that fuel atrocities.

The substance of the treaty is of fundamental importance which is why we'll also be using this week to remind governments that any old ATT is simply not an option.

The only ATT that we can support is one that has binding rules to protect human rights, international law and poverty, one that is comprehensive, loophole free and is subject to tough implementation, open reporting and backed up with strong legislation, regulatory systems, enforcement and criminalisation of arms export violations.

UK must show leadership

The Independent on Sunday carried this article The Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt says some positive things about content of the treaty but also commented that "there would have to be compromises" during the negotiation of the final treaty.

Couple this with no public statement as to where the governments red lines might lie, and you’ll see why I find it hard to have faith that the UK will hold its nerve and remain the Champion of this process. The truth is we desperately need more champions states for the ATT process, the UK was part of the vanguard – now, as Kate Allen said in the same piece:

'David Cameron's silence on this issue is deafening. Tomorrow, the UK government will send its representatives to join others around the world to discuss the nuts and bolts of one of the most important treaties the world will ever see – a treaty that could save literally thousands of lives.'

The week ahead

The geek in me is stupidly excited about the debates over procedure rules and how this will play out this week on the highly politicised floor of the UN. But also I sometimes have to pinch myself that we're actually here at all.

I started working on establishing more effective international arms controls in 1994, just a few short months after unregulated supplies of small arms, ammunition and grenades had contributed to the genocide in Rwanda that cost an estimated 500,000 lives.

Even in 2003, at the start of the Control Arms campaign, the idea of an ATT remained in the eyes of all but three governments, an unrealistic, unobtainable pipe dream, yet here we sit on the eve of the final week of talks that will pave the way to July's historic ATT negotiations. That is something really quite amazing.


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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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