Global Security: Non-Proliferation - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

Submission from the UK Working Group on Arms[391]


1.  Background

  The development of an international Arms Trade Treaty, to help curb the flow of arms to those using them to undermine sustainable development and to commit abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law, remains crucial. Significant progress continues to be made. The UKWG very much welcomes the commitment of the UK government, expressed by the Foreign Secretary in September. Alongside its international partners, the UK has continued to play a lead role in promoting the ATT on the international stage. As one of the leading governments backing the ATT initiative, the UK must continue to work hard to drive the ATT process through the UN system and increase efforts to secure widespread and international active support, particularly from southern governments.

  It is also clear that an ATT will only save lives and protect human rights if it is truly comprehensive, robust and effectively implemented. UKWG does not support an ATT at any cost; we believe that the eventual treaty must enshrine the core principles of international human rights, humanitarian law and sustainable development, if it is to be effective in saving lives.

2.  Parameters of an ATT

  A set of core "Global Principles" for international arms transfers, has been developed by NGOs advocating the establishment of the ATT.[392] These principles, which include obligations based on relevant international treaties and customary international law, outline the conditions under which arms transfers should or should not be permissable, and they provide the foundation for an effective and comprehensive ATT.

  The Global Principles can be summarised as follows:

    1. States are responsible for and must regulate all arms transfers that are relevant to their jurisdiction

    2. States must assess all international transfers of arms according to three categories of restrictions under existing international law:

    (a)  Express prohibitions where states must not transfer arms in certain situations based on existing prohibitions on the manufacture, possession, use and transfer of arms, for example in violation of a UN arms embargo or of a particular treaty to which a state is party, for instance the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-Personnel Mines.

    (b)  Prohibitions based on the likely use of the weapons, in particular whether the arms are likely to be used to commit serious violations of international human rights law or international humanitarian law

    (c)  Criteria and emerging norms that must be considered when assessing arms transfers, for example states should not authorise a transfer if it is likely to be used for terrorist attacks, for violent or organised crime, or likely to adversely affect regional security or sustainable development

    3. States must agree a monitoring and enforcement mechanism, providing for prompt, impartial and transparent investigation of alleged violations of an ATT, and appropriate penalties for offenders

3.  Scope of an ATT

  An ATT should reflect the inherant right of all states to self-defence under Article 51 of the UN Charter. An ATT must also reflect the UN Charter obligation to promote and observe human rights and fundamental freedoms—including civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights—all of which are essential for sustainable development. There is also a universal obligation on states to ensure respect for the rules of international humanitarian and human rights law as well as a multitude of relevant international humanitarian, human rights and criminal law obligations to which many governments are state parties. Without the inclusion of these elementary principles and a clear obligation not to authorise tranfers that risk being used in contravention of international law, an ATT will not be effective.

  It must also be as comprehensive as possible, applying to all converntional arms; including their components, manufacturing technology, production equipment and relevant dual-use goods. It is of great concern that discussions amongst governments are focussing on using the seven categories on major conventional weaponry from the UN Register of Conventional Arms (UNRCA), plus small arms and light weapons, often refered to as "7 +1". Under such formulation, the ATT would not cover many categories of weapons, police and internal security equipment that are used in the commission of human rights violations, including ammunition and explosives, many types of military vehicles and aircraft, and many categories of ordnance including short-range missiles and bombs. Utilising the UNRCA categories would also not include components and parts, which are central to international supply chains that dominate the increasingly global nature of the production of conventional weapons.

  As a starting point, the UKWG recommends that the Wassennar military list should be utilised, as it is comprehensive, multilateral, enjoys the support of a majority of arms exporting states, and is an agreed international standard for the classification of conventional weapons. While a number of states view the Wassenaar Arrangement as politically suspect—on the grounds that it is dominated by the "North" and discriminates against non-Wassenaar members—there is widespread recognition of the technical validity of the Wassenaar list.

  The ATT must also cover all aspects of international arms tranfers, including import, export, transit, transhipment, overseas production and arms brokering activities.

4.  The ATT Process

  In December 2006, 153 states voted in favour of UN General Assembly Resolution 61/89, "Towards an Arms Trade Treaty".[393] This resolution requested that states submit their views to the UN Secretary General, on "the feasibility, scope and draft parameters for a comprehensive, legally binding instrument establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms." It also established a Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) to examine the feasibility, scope and draft parameters for such an instrument.

  Between January and June 2007, 100 states responded to the Secretary General's request for views. Human rights, international humanitarian law and sustainable development were among those parameters most commonly referred to by states as important for an effective ATT.[394]

  In 2008, as instructed by the UN Secretary General, the GGE, which comprised representatives from 28 states, convened in New York for three week-long meetings to discuss the ATT. The GGE process was difficult, given the presence of states (eg China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Egypt) which remain sceptical about the ATT. However, a consensus report was produced, essentially a narrative of the sessions which concluded that "further consideration of efforts within the UN to address the international trade in conventional arms is required".[395]

  We are concerned that, despite the views expressed in 2007, while the GGE reached consensus on the point that "principles enshrined in the Charter of the UN" would be central to any potential ATT, "differing views" were expressed on the "applicability of existing international human rights law and international humanitarian law".[396] It is critical that the ATT process does not pay undue heed to the concerns of a small minority of states at the expense of the opinions of the wider international community as expressed in the submissions to the Secretary General.

  In October 2008, 147 governments voted in favour of a UN General Assembly First Committee resolution which endorsed the GGE report and decided to establish an Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on the ATT.[397] The only states to vote against the resolution were the US and Zimbabwe. The OEWG is mandated to meet in six, one-week sessions, with the first two set for 2009. These 2009 sessions are tasked to consider "those elements in the GGE report where consensus could be developed for their inclusion in an eventual legally binding treaty." Meanwhile, the EU is in the process of agreeing a Joint Action that will mandate the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) to organise a series of regional meetings to take place over the next 15 months. This will provide states with an alternative platform to discuss elements further from GGE consensus, such as criteria based on human rights, international humanitarian law and sustainable development.

  The GGE report refers to proceeding on a step-by-step basis. While we recognise that appropriate time must be allowed for the consideration of complex issues, the human cost of the unregulated arms trade means that a sense of urgency must be maintained, and the process of agreeing a treaty must not be allowed to drag on for many years.

5.  The UK and the ATT in 2009

  Over the course of 2009, the UK needs to work hard to ensure that both the OEWG and the EU regional meetings generate positive outcomes. The UK must not only maintain its leading role but should also use its position to build a core group of states, regionally diverse and regionally powerful, to share the burden of leadership and create bridgeheads of proactive support around the world. This approach will be necessary to ensure that a substantial majority of UN Member States vote for a resolution on the ATT that drives the process forward. A resolution in 2009 will need to mandate the OEWG to move in 2010 beyond the least controversial issues, to more contentious items such as arms transfer criteria. This mandate will be necessary to speed the process towards the negotiation of a comprehensive, meaningful ATT.

  Moreover, the UK should respond to the imminent change in the US administration by increasing its engagement with the US at the political level and through contacts among officials, and by encouraging the UK defence industry to engage their US counterparts, with a view to bringing about a shift in the US position on the proposed treaty. Persuading the world's most powerful state and biggest arms exporter to move from a stance of outright opposition would be a major step forward in securing the ATT's eventual agreement.

6 January 2009

391   For the purposes of this submission, the UK Working Group on Arms compromises Amnesty International UK, Landmine Action, the Omega Research Foundation, Oxfam GB and Saferworld Back

392   "Compilation of Global Principles for Arms Transfers", Arms Trade Treaty Steering Committee, April 2007, Back

393   "Towards an arms trade treaty: establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms", UN General Assembly, A/RES/61/89, 18 December 2006, 

394   An NGO analysis of 92 states' submissions showed that 72 referenced international human rights law, 65 referenced international humanitarian law, and 43 referenced sustainable development. See "A Global Arms Trade Treaty: What States Want" at Back

395   "Report of the Group of Governmental Experts to examine the feasibility, scope and draft parameters for a comprehensive, legally binding instrument establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms", UN General Assembly, A/63/334, 26 August 2008. Back

396   IbidBack

397   The full UN General Assembly vote on this resolution was scheduled for 22 December 2008. Back

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