Comment & analysis

Saferworld report-card on the July 2011 ATT PrepCom

22 July 2011 Roy Isbister

21 July 2011: As the dust settles after the fourth and final (scheduled) week of substantive UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) Preparatory Committee meetings (PrepComs) in New York, Roy Isbister, Saferworld's Small Arms and Transfer Controls Team Leader, assesses where we now stand.

Another intense week at the UN, full of sound and fury, but what did it all signify?  Are we still moving toward a Treaty of which we and the international community can be properly proud, or is the light at the end of the tunnel just another train, heading for us at ever-increasing speed?

Well, in the words of Zhou Enlai: “it’s too soon to say.”  Ultimately the PrepCom was good in parts, but disappointing in others. 

On the plus side, the latest version of the Chair’s paper which was presented to the PrepCom on the Thursday (14 July) by the Chair of the process, Ambassador Roberto Garcia Moritán of Argentina, still contains most of the elements necessary for an effective Treaty [ For Saferworld’s analysis of the latest Chair’s paper, please see here]. For example, it has relatively strong—though incomplete—language on the weapons categories the ATT will cover and on the criteria against which arms transfers will be assessed (such as human rights, conflict and development concerns).  Also positive was the enthusiastic way States engaged with the week’s agenda, the main item of which was Treaty implementation (including national authorities and systems, record-keeping, reporting, enforcement and institutional arrangements) and final provisions (including ratification, entry-into-force, procedures for amendments, Meetings of States Parties and Review Conferences). 

For the first time, the Permanent Members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, UK and US) made a joint statement in support of the process.  While this statement says little in terms of what those states would like to see in the Treaty, it is particularly noteworthy given that both China and Russia have abstained from all UN General Assembly resolutions on the ATT and have so far shown a marked scepticism towards the Treaty.

However, the latest version of the Chair’s paper failed to address a number of weaknesses contained in the March 2011 version, and it’s clear there’s still a great deal of work to be done to get agreement on Treaty text.  Toward the end of the week there were a number of references to the over-elaborate nature of the current Chair’s paper and the need to strip it back.  Quite what impact this will have is not yet clear, but the risk is obvious that if supportive states don’t speak up on behalf of a strong Treaty then its humanitarian potential could be severely compromised.  

Saferworld was present throughout the PrepCom, evaluating states’ interventions and seeking to promote our ideas on all aspects of the Treaty.  Most obviously we were engaged on the issue of implementation—on the Tuesday, in association with the UN Permanent Missions of Australia and Zambia, we held a well-attended meeting at which we launched an Implementation Framework for the ATT. We have produced a briefing about our work on implementation.

The PrepCom will reassemble in February 2012 to discuss procedural rules for the four-week ATT diplomatic conference, scheduled for next summer, at which the ATT is due to be agreed.  Chair Moritán has declared that this final PrepCom will be extended to allow for two further days of discussion on Treaty content.  It is likely that over the next year Ambassador Moritán, states and other stakeholders will be active in holding consultations and discussions, exploring possibilities and clarifying positions. 

As mentioned above, we are reaching the point where some states are likely to attempt to neuter the content, and consequently the impact, of the Treaty.  It will be incumbent on all ATT supporters to redouble their efforts to fight for a strong ATT, one that will make a concrete difference to those suffering at the sharp end of the poorly regulated trade in conventional arms.  Saferworld will continue to work with state and non-governmental partners towards a robust and effective ATT. 


Find out how to support Saferworld’s efforts to secure a strong ATT

Civil society will also be mobilising around the world over the coming year to help deliver a strong Treaty. For more on this and how you can get involved, visit the Control Arms website.


The formal ATT process:

UN General Assembly resolution 64/48–entitled ‘The arms trade treaty’—was passed by overwhelming vote in December 2009.  It recognises that “the absence of commonly agreed international standards for the transfer of conventional arms … is a contributory factor to armed conflict, the displacement of people, organised crime and terrorism, thereby undermining peace, reconciliation, safety, security, stability and sustainable social and economic development.”  The resolution mandated four weeks of substantive preparatory meetings (Preparatory Committees, or PrepComs), a three-day PrepCom to decide on procedural matters, and then a UN diplomatic conference in 2012 to negotiate “a legally-binding instrument on the highest possible common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms”.


For more information about Saferworld's involvement in the ATT process read our short briefing:Saferworld and the history of the Arms Trade Treaty

“We are reaching the point where some states are likely to attempt to neuter the content, and consequently the impact, of the Treaty”

Roy Isbister, Saferworld