On 2 April 2013, after approximately two decades of civil society advocacy and activism, and seven years after UN General Assembly resolution 61/89 first sought “the views of Member States 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”, the UN General Assembly adopted a global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Less than 18 months later more than 50 states had ratified the Treaty triggering a 90-day countdown to its entry into force at the end of 2014.
The ATT is the result of many years of work on the part of civil society and government – within the UN and outside. In the UN, after six years of preparatory work, actual negotiations commenced at a one-month Diplomatic Conference (DipCon1) in July 2012. Considerable progress was made at the DipCon, but on the final morning the US announced that it required more time to consider the draft Treaty text submitted by the Conference President, Ambassador Roberto García Moritán of Argentina. With the DipCon rules of procedure requiring that the Treaty be agreed by consensus, as soon as the US indicated that it was not going to agree, the Conference was effectively over.
However, more than 90 states immediately put their name to a joint statement expressing profound disappointment that they had not been able to complete the task of concluding an Arms Trade Treaty and a determination to “secure an [ATT] as soon as possible”. Many others communicated a similar sentiment verbally.
Later in 2012, this determination was given expression at the UN General Assembly, when Member States agreed by resolution to hold a final Diplomatic Conference from 18 to 28 March 2013 (DipCon 2). In the event that DipCon2 failed to deliver a Treaty, the resolution provided for the ATT to be returned to the UN General Assembly during the same session, where a Treaty could be adopted on the basis of a vote.
On 28 March 2013, at the end of two weeks of intensive negotiations, consensus on the final Treaty text was blocked by Iran, North Korea, and Syria, despite the best efforts of the Conference President, Ambassador Peter Woolcott of Australia. A resolution to adopt the ATT was immediately drafted by a group of the leading ATT supporting states and tabled five days later at a meeting of the UN General Assembly, which adopted the Treaty by a large majority on 2 April 2013. On 3 June 2013 the ATT opened for signature at the UN in New York and 67 states took the first step towards giving the ATT practical effect. One year, six months and 21 days later the Arms Trade Treaty entered into force and became international law.
Work is now underway to ensure that the ATT fulfils its object and purpose. This includes supporting international peace, security and stability; reducing human suffering; and increasing transparency and responsibility in the global arms trade. Achieving this will require universalisation of the Treaty and its full implementation by all states parties.
Saferworld has been at the forefront of civil society efforts for a global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) since the seeds of the idea were first planted in the early 1990s. Together with NGO allies we worked over the intervening years to build support for the principles that underpin a robust and effective Treaty. We were present throughout the UN process, from the first UN General Assembly resolution on the ATT in 2006 to the two Diplomatic Conferences (DipCons) in July 2012 and March 2013 and the Treaty’s adoption in April 2013. Thus over nearly two decades, Saferworld played a central role in the civil society effort that helped to deliver the ATT.
Saferworld has undertaken research, developed policy proposals, and worked with governments and international institutions in making the case for an effective treaty based on international humanitarian and human rights law. In the lead up to both Diplomatic Conferences Saferworld led efforts to analyse the various drafts of treaty text that emerged from the discussions within the UN and suggesting remedies to the pitfalls and loopholes that were identified. We organised expert roundtable meetings involving governments and civil society from all regions of the world, produced briefings,, and worked bilaterally to encourage states to support proposals for a strong treaty. During the UN ATT negotiations, as part of the Control Arms coalition, Saferworld supported the negotiations by providing policy analysis to ATT-supporter states and civil society alike, thus assisting in the overall effort towards achievement of a strong ATT.
Now that the ATT has become international law, Saferworld is supporting progressive interpretation and full implementation of the Treaty by all States Parties. To this end we have established the informal Expert Group on ATT Implementation (EGAI) which is working with a group of government and civil society experts to develop common understandings around Treaty implementation.
We are also running a project that seeks to assist states in identifying their specific ATT implementation requirements and assistance needs by conducting detailed national assessments. In addition we are working with civil society partners and governments to ensure that robust institutions and workable decision-making provisions are developed and agreed. This will help ensure that the Conference of States Parties can fulfil its mandate to review and facilitate ATT implementation.