International news 10 October 2009

First Committee Monitor

First Edition: 6–10 October 2008


….Small Arms and Light Weapons
Mark Marge | International Action Network on Small Arms

Small arms and light weapons (SALW) remains a significant priority for many states—during the high-level opening sessions of the General Assembly, several heads of state made references to the need to combat the illicit trade in SALW, including those of Jamaica and Liberia. During the general debate of the First Committee, most delegations reaffirmed their commitment to the UN Programme of Action (PoA) on SALW, and spoke of the negative impact of SALW on international peace, security, and development.
Most delegations expressed their satisfaction with the
2008 Biennial Meeting of States (BMS), which agreed on a substantive outcome document, unlike the failed 2006 Review Conference. Unusually for the UN SALW process, the BMS outcome document was agreed by a vote rather than consensus. During the general debate several states acknowledged this healthy break in tradition while none spoke negatively of it. New Zealand’s ambassador said the BMS “illustrated this year that consensus should not be a goal in itself,” and Canada’s ambassador similarly remarked that the break of consensus “is a precedent which the UN might wish to invoke more general in order to advance near-universally agreed objectives.”
On 9 October, the co-authors of the annual SALW omnibus resolution held an open consultation with member states to discuss this year’s draft resolution. The new resolution seeks to keep the small arms process on track by affirming that the next BMS will be held in 2010 and the next Review Conference in 2012. Additionally, the resolution endorses the report adopted by the 2008 BMS and calls for the convening of a Group of Government Experts no later than 2011 to address “key implementation challenges and opportunities relating to particular issues including international cooperation and assistance.” During the open consultation, delegates from Argentina, Australia, Canada, Cuba, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, the Republic of Korea, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Zimbabwe spoke favourably of the new resolution, while India’s delegate spoke on the need for consensus. Iran’s delegation, while endorsing the resolution’s timeline for future meetings, expressed some reservations regarding procedural matters. During the general debate, the
European Union publicly supported a Review Conference.
Although most of the statements during the general debate focused on process, namely the BMS, some states
made substantive recommendations. Nigeria’s representative supported a global ban on international SALW transfers to non-state actors, and the ASEAN statement prioritised stronger regulation of weapons in private possession…

Arms Trade Treaty
Kavitha Suthanthiraraj | Global Action to Prevent War

During the First Committee general debate, many delegations continued to express support for an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) that would better regulate the proliferation of conventional arms. Bangladeshi Ambassador Ms. Ismat Jahan explained, “An effective Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) will ensure a responsible transfer of conventional weapons. This mechanism will prevent the spread of such weaponry. As a country committed to disarmament and non-proliferation, Bangladesh would welcome conclusion of such a treaty.” Nigeria’s representative advocated for the ATT to be “a legally binding international instrument,” a sentiment echoed by the delegations of Brazil, Switzerland, New Zealand, Kenya, and the Dominican Republic in their statements.

The report by the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on an ATT received much-warranted attention from many member states. The GGE was established by resolution 61/89, “Towards an Arms Trade Treaty: establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms,” to examine the scope, feasibility, and draft parameters of such a treaty. Unfortunately, the report of the GGE does not include any conclusions on these matters. On 28 August 2008, the group explained, “In view of the complexity of the issues of conventional arms transfers, further consideration of efforts within the United Nations to address the international trade in conventional arms is required on a step-by-step basis in an open and transparent manner to achieve, on the basis of consensus, a balance that will provide benefit to all.”

Delegates from Australia, Brazil, Switzerland, Japan, Russia, Ukraine, New Zealand, Dominican Republic, and Kenya welcomed the report by the GGE and its consensus-based recommendation to engage in further discussions. Australia further voiced its support through co-sponsoring a resolution seeking to establish an open ended working group in 2009. While Switzerland supported the outcomes of the report, the Swiss ambassador noted that as a member of the GGE, “we would have favoured more substantive recommendations.” Indonesia’s delegation also expressed concern that despite agreement on the report, the outcomes remained inconclusive.

Some points of contention became clear during the general debate. For example, the delegations of Egypt, Brazil, and Pakistan highlighted the right of states to self-defence and argued security must be preserved in any discussions towards an ATT. Supporting the GGE’s recommendations for further consideration, Egypt’s representative cautioned against “the hasty arrival at a new international regime that obstructs current international disarmament priorities or one which is based on subjective criteria affecting the right of States to self defense, or threatening the regional balance in the conventional armament field, which relates to other factors beyond the considerations of this proposal.”

On 7 October, the United Kingdom delegation, as a co-sponsor of anticipated new resolution on the ATT, held a lunchtime session to discuss the draft resolution with member states. The resolution seeks to establish an open-ended working group to commence further discussions towards a global ATT, to commence in 2009. Some member states expressed their concern that the GGE process was not inclusive and thereby the open-ended working group needs to ensure wider consultations. Other delegations questioned the mandate of the group and requested changing the meeting venue from Geneva to New York.

Control Arms, a project of Oxfam, Amnesty International, and the International Action Network on Small Arms held a side event this week discussing the need for an ATT and its impact on states’ ability to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. A former refugee from Sudan discussed the impact of irresponsible and illicit transfers of arms on his community. He called on member states to pursue a speedy development of an ATT and stem the massive loss of human life.