'Pivotal' final hours of arms trade treaty talks
by Daisy Cooper
As the negotiations over the UN arms trade treaty draw to a close, the UK and Australia should stand alongside their Commonwealth family by supporting a robust agreement – says think-tank
Commonwealth countries have a pivotal role to play in the final hours of the United Nations arms trade treaty talks. Will they stand by their 'brothers and sisters' and support a robust treaty that will save millions of lives, or buckle under pressure from the United States, China and Russia and agree a weak treaty full of loopholes?
The Commonwealth has been notably absent from the negotiations taking place at the UN in New York this month. The seat reserved for its delegation at the diplomatic conference has been empty and no statement delivered. More worryingly, there seems to have been no effort by the 54 member states to come together with their shared commitment to human rights, democracy and peace and security, to use their potential leverage to manoeuvre the negotiations in a positive direction. This in spite of the commitment made by all Commonwealth heads of government in their 2009 communiqué to ensure a "robust and comprehensive" treaty.
Instead, it seems that key member states, like the United Kingdom and Australia, are letting down their citizens – those millions of people living in Africa and the Caribbean whose lives and livelihoods are daily affected by armed violence and crime and the unregulated trade in small arms and light weapons and ammunition – by failing to rally behind those Commonwealth countries that are calling for a treaty with the highest international standards.
When 74 UN member states – including many Commonwealth African, Caribbean and Pacific countries – signed and delivered a unified statement to the conference last week, calling for ammunition to be included in the scope of the treaty, the UK and Australia failed to stand by their Commonwealth family and refused to sign the statement. Other influential countries including New Zealand, a long-standing champion of the treaty, did sign the statement, while Canada, which is playing an ambivalent role in the negotiations, and India, which is taking a more sceptical position, did not. This was in spite of the many public statements which the UK and Australia have made in the past supporting the inclusion of ammunition.
One by one, delegates from African, Caribbean and Pacific countries took the floor last Friday to repeat the same important message: it is imperative for ammunition to be regulated by the treaty; since it is not guns, but ammunition that wreaks havoc on innocent peoples' lives around the Commonwealth. Trinidad and Tobago on behalf of Caribbean Community and Nigeria on behalf of Economic Community of West African States stood firmly behind the Unified Statement. Yet the UK and Australia failed to register their demands.
On Wednesday the president delivered a draft treaty for consideration by delegates; it did not include ammunition within its scope. The draft treaty, according to Control Arms – an international alliance of civil society organisations who have been campaigning for a strong Arms Trade Treaty for the past decade – was like a "leaky bucket", full of loopholes allowing for the trade in ammunition to remain unregulated.
The UK and Australia have a pivotal role to play in the final days of the treaty negotiations. They should be using their weight as a balance against the other big players, like the US, Russia and China, who do not want ammunition included in the scope of the treaty. Instead of playing realpolitik as they appear to be doing, they need to stand alongside their Commonwealth brothers and sisters to ensure its inclusion in the final text. There are a few hours left before the conference closes on Friday evening for the UK and Australia to make sure that the treaty includes strong regulations over the international trade in ammunition. If they do not, the lives and livelihoods of millions of citizens will continue to be blighted by the impact armed violence.
Daisy Cooper is director of the Commonwealth Advisory Bureau think-tank
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