David Grimason speaks out on the Arms Trade

The UN process to establish an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) began in 2007 after Amnesty International and its partners in the Control Arms campaign managed to convince 153 governments to vote in December 2006 for a consultation. Amnesty International had initiated the idea of an ATT in the early 1990s with a small group of NGOs and then from 1995 with a number of Nobel Peace Laureates led by Dr Oscar Arias. In 2007, a record number of governments sent proposals, in 2008-9 specialist UN bodies considered them, and in 2010 formal deliberations began. These led to the UN ATT Conference in July 2012 to decide the Treaty text, and will culminate in the “Final UN Conference on the ATT” in New York this month.

Campaigner David Grimason has been working with Amnesty for several years, and will be at the UN in New York later this month. He spoke to us about his experiences.

Last year we were so close to an Arms Trade Treaty. What do you think is different this time around?

At the talks last July, my expectations were really high. I was quite positive about it because so many governments had voted for the Arms Trade Treaty and I was pretty certain that we were going to walk away with a Treaty but in the final hours, the US decided that they needed more time. So, it kind of scuppered the talks after a whole month.

So, that was really, immensely disappointing, but I think this time I need to go in with positivity because we created quite a good draft text in the last talks and, although it has a few loopholes at the moment, they have about ten days of negotiations left to go at the UN. I’m hoping that those loopholes, which are quite important ones, actually, can be hammered out in the end, so that we can have a good Treaty that will be voted for unanimously.

Last year I saw how things work in the UN and I saw how governments can have very different ideas about different sections within it. And I saw how difficult it was for them to come to decisions and conclusions and so I think it will be a very difficult process. However, I’m really hopeful that we’ll come out of it with a strong Treaty.

What would be the best outcome of next week’s talks?

The best possible would be obviously that a Treaty is agreed, but it needs to have these loopholes taken out. There are loopholes in the text that would still enable states to deliver offensive weapons to Syria, for example, and we’ve seen the consequences of that recently.

And the scope of the Treaty is far too narrow. The scope needs to cover all conventional arms, all equipment, all ammunition and all munitions in order for it to be effective. So, it’s very important that all these loopholes are tidied
up and taken out, to ensure we have an effective Treaty that will really make a difference.

What are you most worried might happen?

I suppose that the worry could be that if we do get a Treaty, on one hand that is great news, especially if it is voted for by the majority, and viewed positively, but it needs to be a strong Treaty. If not, it’s not going to effectively regulate the arms trade.

That could be disappointing because if it’s a Treaty that enables governments to manoeuvre around it and use the wording for their own aims then arms could still be sold to regimes like Syria and that means we would have a Treaty that wasn’t going to be a successful one and save lives. So, it is really important that the language is clear and loopholes get taken out. My biggest worry is that they stay in.

Read Part Two of our interview.

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