Looking Towards the ATT in 2012

17 Nov

As the First Committee of the General Assembly has come to a close, delegations appear ready, some enthusiastically and others more hesitatingly, to move towards the final negotiations. Whether this negotiating will be based on the most recent Chair’s Paper from Ambassador Moritan or not, it seems that member states are anticipating transition from the preparatory process to concrete Treaty text.  It is to be assumed that the very ambitious Chair’s Paper from July 14, 2011 will not be entirely replicated in the text, but it surely lays forth the existing proposals that will require honest and practical vetting over the three-week period of the Conference. Ambassdor Moritan’s presence at the First Committee enabled member states to hear, once more, the various proposals and divisions that still exist around the ATT underscoring the vast challenges that lie ahead. Ambassador Moritan is under no illusions regarding the complexity of the process as he noted the levels of ambition regarding the ATT are vastly different. The final PrepCom in February will be focused on the parameters and so-called rules of engagement for negotiations rather than a broad thematic discussion of scope and content specifics.

We continue to advocate for strong emphasis on diversion risks as this issue remains at the heart of curbing the illicit arms trade. Addressing this issue will require special attention to the practice of diverting arms from legitimate end users to non-state and unauthorized parties who may use such weapons for criminal, corrupt, and abusive purposes. It is often in this indirect, and sometimes unintentional on the part of governments, manner that the arms trade becomes a harmful practice. The strength of the language on this issue in the Treaty text is still undecided. As the Chair’s Paper from July 2011 noted, “A State Party shall not authorize a transfer of conventional arms if there is a substantial risk that those conventional arms would…” undermine peace and security in various forms such as to commit violations of international human rights law. One major question for advocates of a strong humanitarian instrument in the ATT is whether the words “shall not” will be changed to “should not,” which inherently alters this responsibility from obligation to suggestion.

This issue of diversion language is but one example of difficult work ahead. We submit that the first iteration of the Treaty may not be ideal for all states parties, but it is the responsibility of all negotiators to take into account that such a Treaty should function as a floor and not a ceiling for improving state arms transfer controls. Implementation of ATT language in national practice will be just as important as the text itself for without implementation the language is empty wording. Therefore, sufficient discussion next year must be focused on implementation support and corresponding structure. We also encourage delegations to put in place a sound review process that will allow for ATT negotiations to continue well passed 2012 such that the ATT can effectively respond to changing international security risks.

The overwhelming trend in conversation in this year’s Committee has been support for both the preparatory process and the leadership of Ambassador Moritan as well as the inarguable need for better regulation of the arms trade. Building on these consensus points, we are hopeful that next year’s conference will, in fact, yield an ATT that will improve the global arms trade process. The question of its robustness and expansiveness, however, remains unanswered.

For more information on the ATT, follow @DisarmDialogues, @controlarms, @TheIANSA, and @VinoThorsen on Twitter and follow the ATT blog featuring various contributors from different organizations working on this issue.

-Katherine Prizeman

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