The United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) is an inter-agency programme of the United Nations mandated to promote and develop constructive relations between the United Nations and civil society organizations.
The first Preparatory Committee meeting on the Arms Trade Treaty took place in New York from 12- 23 July. Even though the discussions are still in a preliminary stage, the first PrepCom confirmed that an Arms Trade Treaty will be adopted in the near future.
In accordance with General Assembly resolution 64/48, the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2012 United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) met for two weeks to make recommendations on the elements that would be needed to attain an effective and balanced legally binding instrument on the highest possible common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms.
Although a Group of Governmental Experts and an Open-Ended Working Group worked previously on the issue, a draft of the future treaty had yet to be written. Therefore, discussions in the first week focused largely on the elements to be included in the future ATT. Representatives of States presented their positions and highlighted the elements that should or should not be part of the future treaty. The second week saw further discussions on content as well. Overall, Member States generally agreed during the first PrepCom on the idea of an Arms Trade Treaty and that they should continue discussing its content in-depth.
On one of the last meeting days, the Chair, H.E. Ambassador Roberto Garcia Moritan (Argentina), released a draft paper on elements, principles, and objective that suggests an indicative list of elements to include in the treaty as well as a draft preamble. The Friends of the Chair issued three summaries compiling as objectively as possible the range of views expressed over the past two weeks on scope, parameters, and implementation and application. State representatives had the opportunity to react to them and suggested some modifications. The Chair and Friends of the Chair insisted that these draft papers simply provide an overview of the discussions and should not “prejudge” the outcome of future negotiations.
Testing the waters
The Chair’s draft paper on elements is made up of 14 sections with many subsections which could provide a sketch of the treaty’s structure. The elements discussed by the PrepCom included end-user certificates, corruption, follow up processes and engagement with non-State parties. The principles include references to the UN Charter, States’ rights and responsibilities and the adverse effects of the illicit and unregulated arms trade.
Concerning the scope – or the types of weapons and activities that should be covered by the ATT – most States seemed to consider that the UN Register of Conventional Arms provided a good basis. Disagreements lay in the question of broadening the scope to Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) and ammunitions, as well as including technology transfer or brokering. Some suggested exceptions for internal transfers and sporting rifles as well.
Regarding parameters – or the criteria for arms transfers and their application – the need for objective and non-discriminatory criteria was emphasized, as well as their transparent and predictable application. The implementation of parameters is seen as a State responsibility, and therefore higher national standards could also be set. Specific criteria and methodologies to apply them are also being addressed.
Implementation and application is a wide topic: preferences ranged from allowing complete national discretion to imposing national obligations with an international secretarial body. Various topics around these issues were also addressed, such as national focal points, tracing and marking, transparency measures, dispute settlement, international cooperation and assistance.
Civil society at the PrepCom
Some of the PrepCom meetings were closed to NGOs. Nonetheless, civil society was able to actively take part in and around the PrepCom’s first session. On 16 July, representatives from Oxfam International, Amnesty International, IANSA, World Forum on the Future of Sports Shooting Activities, and Defence Small Arms Advisory Council addressed the Preparatory Committee. They reminded participants that it was high time to conclude a robust treaty. They further emphasized that the question “What is an ATT for?” should be at the heart of the discussions. The fact that illegal arms transfers contribute to violations of international humanitarian law, impede efforts to reduce poverty, and lead to cases of gender-based violence should also be acknowledged as reasons for concluding the treaty. Some speakers asked States to focus primarily on military instead of civilian SALW, while others pushed for a larger scope, including SALW and munitions.
Throughout the week, several side events were also organized, including, to name a few, “How to implement an Arms Trade Treaty” (Government of the Netherlands, Saferworld, CITS and Oxfam International), “ATT transport controls briefing” (Amnesty International), and “Better understanding the trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons” (Small Arms Survey).
For further information, read NGLS’ interview of the ATT legal bloggers from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights.
Most States, along with many NGOs, indicated they would continue to work hard in the lead-up to the next PrepCom in order to bridge the differences, while maintaining the objective of a robust ATT. The Chair stated that the second PrepCom will have to discuss “specific matters” and in the period leading up to February 2011, he mentioned the importance of planned informal and academic meetings and consultations, such as the regional seminars planned by the UN Institute for Disarmament Research.
The next sessions of PrepCom will be held in New York from 28 February to 4 March 2011, and then from 11-15 July 2011. Another PrepCom meeting will be held in 2012 on procedural matters, which will be followed by the four-week UN Conference on the ATT.
• Arms Trade Treaty Preparatory Committee
• UN Office of Disarmament Affairs
• Arms Trade Treaty blog (Reaching Critical Will, Oxfam and Global Action to Prevent War)
• Arms Trade Treaty legal blog (Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights)
• Control Arms
• International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA)
• Amnesty International
• OXFAM International
See also from the UNIDIR website regional seminars in the lead-up to the first PrepCom:
• Promoting discussion on an Arms Trade Treaty—Concluding seminar of the EU-UNIDIR project of regional ATT events (February 2010).
• Promoting discussion on an Arms Trade Treaty, Regional seminar in Vienna, Austria (February 2010).
• ATT Regional Seminar for countries in Eastern and Southern Africa (December 2009).
• Non-state actors and the Arms Trade Treaty initiative: challenges and opportunities (November 2009).
• Promoting Discussion on an Arms Trade Treaty (October 2009).
• ATT Regional Seminar for Countries in Asia and the Pacific (October 2009).
• ATT Regional Seminar for countries in the Middle East (July 2009).
• ATT Regional Seminar for countries in the Americas and the Caribbean (June 2009).
• ATT Regional Seminar for Countries in Central, Northern and Western Africa (April 2009).