Africa: Arms Trade Treaty Hanging in the Balance As Negotiations Enter Final Phase

France and UK urged not to cave in to US pressure

Efforts to end the irresponsible and poorly-regulated international arms trade are at risk of failure, as negotiations at the United Nations enter a critical final week, campaigners warned today.

The talks, which carried on throughout the weekend in New York, are now being dominated by sceptical governments including Iran, Syria and Cuba, intent on having a weak treaty - or no treaty at all.

China and Russia are opposed to effective human rights and humanitarian rules in any deal whilst the US wants exclusions that could undermine the effectiveness of any treaty.

London and Paris, which until now have been key champions of a strong treaty, are now coming under intense pressure from Washington. There are concerns that they may trade-off strong international humanitarian and human rights protections to get China, Russia and the US to sign up to any final deal.

Behind-closed-doors talks

Concern is mounting that countries including Australia, France, Japan and the UK are reportedly saying less and less of real substance in the negotiations room - instead focusing their efforts on behind-closed-doors talks with the major players.

Jeff Abramson, director of the Control Arms secretariat , said:

"There is everything to play for this week. A strong treaty is still within our grasp but there is a real risk it could slip through our fingers at the last minute. Now is the time for action. All states that have called for a strong Arms Trade Treaty for years in the past, must now deliver on their promises."

The critical focus during the final days of negotiations will be on the steps governments will be required to take before deciding whether an arms transfer should go ahead or not. A small minority of governments refuses to agree that a transfer should be prohibited if there is a substantial risk it will be used for violations of human rights or international humanitarian law.

Last Friday, a statement outlining the minimum humanitarian principles that must be included in the treaty, was supported by 74 states including Colombia, Malawi, Mexico, Norway and New Zealand and scores of Caribbean and African nations. But key players including the UK, Australia, Japan and France did not sign up.

Anna Macdonald, Head of Arms Control at Oxfam, said: "Over 70 countries, some that have been the most affected by armed violence, have now made it clear that they will not cave in and accept a weak treaty.

"There is still time for others to speak out and show their commitment for the strongest possible deal. The sceptics have had more than their share of the limelight. With five days of negotiations ahead of us, it's critical that supporters of the treaty fight to secure a text that will really save lives."

The key question of ammunition

The potential exclusion of ammunition in the final treaty text is also becoming an issue of mounting concern.

Geoff Tunnicliffe, Secretary General of the World Evangelical Alliance, said:

"We witness the human cost of unlawful armed violence everyday. This treaty offers the best opportunity in a generation to end the human cost of the irresponsible arms trade. For this to be true, ammunition must be included in any agreement. Guns without bullets are useless."

Many states from Africa, Latin America and the Carribbean also say it is essential that the sale and transfer of ammunition is covered by the new agreement, but several countries including China, Egypt, India and the US are calling for it to be excluded.

Baffour Amoa, President of the West African Action Network on Small Arms: "Africa is awash with small arms and ammunition and these are being used to kill on a massive scale - and Africa is not alone. Affected countries should stand firm and support a strong and robust treaty."

A full draft treaty text is expected to be circulated on Tuesday, and will likely form the basis of any final agreement.

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