After an opening week, characterized by procedural delays and wrangling, this past week delegates finally got down to content discussions. However they still do not have the basis for negotiation on most of the key elements of the treaty.
"There are less than ten days left to hammer out a treaty which will prevent the irresponsible and illicit trade, transfer and transport of weapons, and states need to get a move on before it is too late " Said Jeff Abramson, Director of the Control Arms Secretariat. "So far, changes to the overall list of conventional weapons to be included is more comprehensive than before, but it makes no sense to exclude so-called "non-military small arms" and ammunition."
The optimistic view is that there will be a negotiating text by Wednesday. However, States are running at least a week behind schedule, and there are now only nine working days left to hammer out an agreement. This is disappointing because so much work was done in preparatory meetings and there is a lot of support for a strong Treaty, but now the sceptics are really blocking. A progressive group of countries has emerged but really should have been more organised from the beginning.
"The negotiations are running at least a week behind schedule. The clock is ticking now and we need to see a greater sense of urgency from delegates, who must agree a strong treaty text. The world is watching, and people across the globe are demanding a treat that will tighten up controls on the arms trade and close the loopholes that allow the illicit and irresponsible part of the trade to flourish. There is not a moment to lose," said Anna MacDonald, Head of Arms Control at Oxfam.
Where countries stand:
We are still facing hard line opposition to the idea of an Arms Trade Treaty from sceptical states like Egypt, Syria, Algeria, Iran, Cuba and North Korea, rejecting core principles of human rights and international law.
P5 (Russia, China, UK, France, US) - have issued some joint statements, though these are stronger on process and form than specific content.
Acting individually, P5 members have demonstrated as much difference as agreement:
US has hardened its stance on wanting to see ammunition removed from the treaty and has argued for weaker provisions on criteria - so want to water down the rule on human rights. They have support from important countries like India.
UK has come out strongly in support of rigorous criteria to prevent any arms transfers which would violate human rights law, international humanitarian law, undermine sustainable development, or facilitate corruption.
China wants narrow weapons coverage and think that anti-corruption measures should not be included in the treaty. They want to exclude gifts and want the treaty to focus only on illicit trade. They remain sceptical of the need for human rights and IHL provisions.
The progressive group of countries strongly supporting a robust and comprehensive treaty include: Australia, CARICOM, Germany, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden.
African group is still constrained by Egypt blocking progressive statements, but there is strong support from sub Saharan Africa - especially ECOWAS, East and Central Africa.
Italy - has broken ranks with EU counterparts by specifically requesting that "non-military" small arms, e.g. those used for hunting and sporting purposes, be excluded from the treaty. The EU, all of sub Saharan Africa, CARICOM, Mexico and others argue that States will never be able to agree what separates non-military from military small arms, and that in any event States must take responsibility for international transfers of all types of small arms, be they assault rifles or pistols. Under an ATT, licensing systems would not prevent legitimate hunting and sporting activities, but would stop the transfer of these weapons to war criminals.
Control Arms Concerns on draft working papers for the ATT
Due to successful delaying tactics by the sceptical group, even though we are now in week three of four, states have yet to finalize comments on all of the key elements in the Treaty. When this process is completed, the President of the conference can finally incorporate all of the comments on each of these key elements into a Draft Treaty Text. This Draft Text will then the basis for negotiations on the final treaty.
Currently the Conference is divided into two committees, each responsible for developing working papers on specific Treaty topics:
Main Committee 1 - working on Preamble, Principles, Goals and Objectives, Criteria
Main Committee 2 - working on Scope, Implementation, Final Provisions (Administrative items)
Scope covers two distinct elements: the weaponry to be covered and the activities to be controlled. Other elements of the treaty include the goals and objectives that define the purpose of the treaty, the criteria or rules that will be applied when deciding whether to supply weaponry or not, and sections on how governments will implement and monitor the Treaty.
The latest drafts of the working papers are far from what is needed to produce a properly effective Treaty. For example:
State are given far too much discretion to decide whether to transfer arms even where the transfer would result in violations of human rights or would fuel conflict. This needs to be tightened.
States are given special compensation to fulfil existing contracts and to continue to supply weapons, even if there is evidence that those weapons are now contributing to serious human rights abuses, killings and armed conflicts. For example, the treaty will be meaningless if Russia and Iran can continue to supply weapons to Syria on the basis that they are merely fulfilling existing contracts, when those arms and ammunition are being used to kill and terrorise citizens.
Provisions for reporting are ambiguous about whether there will be full public transparency. States' reports on their compliance with the treaty, and on their arms transfer activity, must be fully available to the public. Without such transparency, the public and parliaments will be unable to scrutinise their governments' actions and hold them to account against their obligations under the Treaty.
Many states are unhappy with the US, China, Egypt, Iran among others for wanting ammunition excluded from the scope of equipment to be controlled under the treaty. This would severely undermine the treaty.
Guns are useless without bullets. An ATT that does not control ammunition will not achieve its purposes. The single simplest way to reduce casualties in a conflict or in situation with high levels of criminal violence is to reduce the flow of ammunition to combatants and criminals.
Ammunition is big business. Twelve billion bullets are produced each year - nearly two bullets for every person in the world. Global trade in ammunition for small arms and light weapons is worth an estimated $4.3bn per annum.
Sceptical states argue that once exported, ammunition is difficult to monitor and trace. But the ATT is not about following individual bullets after they have been transferred. It is about States deciding whether it is a good idea to transfer the ammunition across borders in the first place. All major arms exporters, including France, Germany, Russia, UK and the US etc already regulate, control and license ammunition exports.
Arms brokering is currently included in the ATT section dealing with "Scope of activities to be covered". Scope covers two distinct elements: the weaponry to be covered and the activities to be controlled.
Related to Arms Brokering - some definitions simplified:
Brokers - Brokers are the fixers and middlemen who arrange for arms deals between buyers and sellers. Brokers are often involved in the most egregious and irresponsible of arms supplies, for example embargo busting. This is because they are experts at exploiting loopholes, evading scrutiny and detection, making corrupt payments and exploiting the weaknesses and gaps that exist in states' regulations. They know the governments who don't check the paperwork properly, and who will issue licenses without checking them. They know the shipping routes and companies that won't scrutinize the paperwork or will knowingly falsify records, avoiding capture.
Brokers do a range of things like negotiate contracts between the exporter and importer - so a government can pay a middleman to get weapons; to negotiate contracts, end-user certificates, to organize transportation - basically to be the middle men oiling the machine to make it happen.
Transportation - Transportation is an activity closely associated to brokering. Indeed, transporters may well act as brokers, given that they are in charge of the logistics and of actually getting weapons from A to B, often with no questions asked or checks made.
Currently in the ATT drafts, transportation is not included in the list of brokering activities. So the existing loophole is that they can describe themselves as just transporters.
"Gun runners: brokers and those who move weapons act as a facilitator are the middlemen who ensure that weapons get to the conflict zones where they are used to maim and kill. This is why it is essential that brokering and transportation be included within the scope of the ATT." Said Jeff Abramson, Director of the Control Arms Campaign.
The UK is one of the few countries with national laws which, in the case of small arms and ammunition, defines transporters as brokers who need specific licenses to transport these items anywhere in the world. A similar provision should be included within the ATT.