Northern Ireland welcome for Arms Treaty vote

Campaigners in Northern Ireland have welcomed a major United Nations vote today to agree an an international Arms treaty.

In the biggest show of support for the treaty so far, 157 governments at the UN General Assembly’s First Committee on Disarmament in New York voted earlier today in favour of finalising an Arms Treaty next March.

Amnesty members in Northern Ireland have been campaigning for the treaty for more than a decade and have hailed the vote as a potential victory for human rights worldwide.

Amnesty International Northern Ireland Campaigner Grainne Teggart said:

“Earlier this year Amnesty International joined with Wave Trauma Centre to highlight the positive effects a Global Arms Treaty could have on the flow of arms to Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Assembly also passed a motion calling on David Cameron to publicly affirm the UK Government's commitment to a robust Treaty. After today’s resounding vote, if the larger arms trading countries show real political will in the negotiations, we’re only months away from securing a new global deal that has the potential to stop weapons reaching those who seriously abuse human rights.

“We know sceptics will keep trying to undermine the human rights rules in the final treaty, but Amnesty International and its partners will keep up the pressure to secure the strongest possible text that protects human rights.

“This treaty won’t be a panacea - unscrupulous governments will try to bend and ignore the new rules, but global civil society and governments supporting the rule of law and human rights will hold them to account and keep working to improve the treaty rules on critical issues, such as sea and air drones and laser weapons.

“The treaty should not be a frozen tablet. When it enters into force, a robust Arms Treaty could be the starting shot for a new global process that can be further strengthened to really protect people on the ground.”

Among the “big six” arms-exporting countries, only Russia abstained from today's vote, while China joined France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the USA in supporting the resolution.  

Even before the vote, 110 states from all world regions put their names on the resolution which was co-authored by seven governments - Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Finland, Japan, Kenya and the United Kingdom - and co-sponsored by 103 other governments. No government voted against the resolution, although Iran tried to alter it to prevent the current draft treaty text from being used as a basis to complete the negotiation - no other government supported such a move.

A long campaign

This is the final leg of a 17-year campaign by Amnesty and its partners to achieve an Arms treaty to help protect people on the ground who, time and again, have borne the brunt of human rights violations during armed repression, violence and conflicts around the globe.

This resulted in a historic Arms Treaty Conference which produced the current draft treaty text in July 2012. Although a handful of countries held up the negotiations and the text’s adoption in July, governments supportive of the treaty are using the delay to hammer out technical issues, such as potential loopholes regarding defence cooperation agreements and the transit of international arms shipments.

Amongst officials at the UN today, hopes are high that a new Obama administration in the USA - by far the world’s largest arms producer and exporter - will support a reasonably strong treaty next March. However, the USA has previously tried to weaken the human rights rules and the scope of the treaty - by excluding ammunition, and by only favouring watered-down rules on key issues covered in the text.

Final conference on the Arms Treaty

The UN’s Final Conference on the treaty will be held in New York from 18-28 March 2013.

If the March Conference fails to finally adopt the treaty text, it will almost certainly be tabled by a large majority for adoption by a vote in the UN General Assembly. After being adopted, the treaty is expected to come into force after being ratified by 65 states.

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