In 2 April 2013 the General Assembly passed a resolution adopting the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) by a recorded vote of 154 in favour, 3 against and 23 abstentions. Basically this legal instrument seeks to uniform the international trade in conventional arms, bringing to it more accountability, openness and transparency, as the aim of the Treaty is to avoid obtaining arms to those human rights abusers and criminals around the globe.
This Treaty is the result of a hard-work process which began in the 1990s, when civil society actors voiced their concern over the unregulated nature of the global arms trade and its impact on human society. Therefore, a number of States developed an interest in the issue and began a formal process in the sphere of the United Nations. Thus, it was not until 2006 when the United Nations General Assembly requested countries to submit their views on a possible ATT. More than 100 countries did and these views were collected in 2007 and a year later, a group of governmental experts examined their feasibility for a future legally binding instrument. From 2 to 27 of July 2012 a United Nations Conference on the ATT took place, but their negotiations concluded without an agreement on a text for a treaty. Nevertheless, Member States pledged to keep on negotiations and to reach a final text in the near future. As a result, the Final United Nations Conference on the ATT took place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 18 to 28 March 2013, building on the work done of the July 2012 Conference. It was designated as “final” in order to show the massive commitment to end to an agreement.
Indeed the ATT respects the legitimate interests of States to acquire conventional arms as it explicitly acknowledges that regulation of the international trade in conventional arms should not impede international cooperation and legitimate trade in materiel, equipment and technology for peaceful purposes.
As provisioned on its Principles, the ATT not only focuses to effectively regulate the international trade in conventional arms but it is rather concerned to prevent diversion in the global market. In this way, the Treaty sets on the primary responsibility of all States by claiming to establish and to implement national control systems. Then, States will assess the risk of diversion in transfers and establish a set of mitigation measures to exporting and importing States.
Accordingly, the ATT facilitates the exchange of information, cooperation, assistance and contribution among State Parties to encourage them to take part on this Treaty, and its provisions also may improve national security of States. In addition, a Conference of State Parties to be held yearly is regulated in article 17 to reinforce the implementation of the Treaty and a provisional Secretariat to be stipulated in article 18 for administrative functions, such as distributing reports, giving assistance to State Parties regarding Treaty implementation and facilitate the work of the Conference of State Parties.
Moreover, a set of categories of conventional weapons is listed in the article 2 (1) as they are the ones applied on the Treaty, such as: battle tanks; armoured combat vehicles; large-calibre artillery systems; combat aircraft; attack helicopters; warships; missiles and missile launchers; and small arms and light weapons.
In a press conference prior to the Final UN Conference on the ATT, Ms. Anna MacDonald, Head of Arms Control, Oxfam; she stressed there are strong economic reasons to have such a Treaty, but especially important humanitarian ones, and she gave the example of Africa, by which a turnover of around 18 million $ in a year is estimated to be spent by conflicts and violence, and that it is just an amount that the continent cannot afford. Then, just after the adoption of the ATT, President of the Final UN Conference, Peter Woolcott expressed his hope that we will see half of State Parties ratifying this Treaty along this year and then following it on. Though he assumes implementation is not believed to be quick, but he is confident this Treaty will make a big difference over the years going forward. In the end, all experts have shown gratitude to all sectors of the civil society and NGO’s that had been tirelessly advocating the adoption of an ATT for two decades, as they actually started this process in which arms were the only sort of goods not governed by rules.
Image Courtesy: Control Arms/ Andrew Kelly/Oxfam International (http://www.flickr.com/photos/oxfam/7649553240/)