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Press Conference by Parliamentarians on Arms Trade Treaty
At a Headquarters press conference today, Members of national parliaments from around the world called for delegations to the arms trade treaty conference to negotiate a strong treaty, amid concerns that a new draft text to be presented Wednesday would be weaker and “lack teeth” in monitoring and compliance.
“I must indicate disappointment with what appears to be a weak and ineffective textual draft submission,” said Senator Lyndira Oudit of Trinidad and Tobago and a member of Parliamentarians for Global Action, which co-sponsored the press conference with the delegation of Finland. The Treaty Conference has been meeting at Headquarters since 18 March and concludes Thursday.
Ms. Oudit was joined at the press conference by Ambassador Riitta Resch of Finland; Irene Naa Torshie Addo, Member of Parliament, Ghana; Lamine Thiam, Member of Parliament, Senegal; Yusuf Ziya Irbec, Member of Parliament, Turkey; Margareta Cederfelt, Member of Parliament, Sweden; Mark Pritchard, Member of Parliament, United Kingdom.
Ms. Oudit said the draft reflected politically balanced neutrality, with sanitized terms and soothing language. The real issues were obscured and, in that form, the current draft treaty would never truly empower people, agencies, Governments and international supporters and give them what they needed — “a living instrument” strong enough to change the course of the inhumanity men, women and children faced the world over as victims of gun violence, abuse, human trafficking and exploitation.
Continuing, Ms. Oudit said that, after decades of gun violence, gun and drug trading and human trafficking, with tremendous strides made in technology for identifying, tracking and sanctioning perpetrators, the draft treaty was not good enough. The issue of arms and ammunitions did not stand alone, she said. It was closely connected to related violations, such as human trafficking, drug and sex abuse and organ trading. Also, obligations regarding human rights violations were sadly lacking in the draft.
The treaty should flow naturally from previous United Nations conventions and protocols to which Member States were already obliged, she said. Article 26 of the United Nations Charter spoke not only of international peace, but also of security and human rights. Since most members were already party to those Conventions, as well as a plethora of human rights and humanitarian laws, it was unacceptable that “the document is lacking in ‘teeth’, especially in monitoring and compliance”.
Ms. Resch stressed the important dual role of parliamentarians in the treaty process. “They put pressure on Governments to conclude the treaty and once there is a treaty, hopefully at the end of this week, they are going to have a very important role back in their home countries to ratify the treaty,” she said.
Ms. Torshie said that “legislators are the best advocates to speak on the subject”. Of the three branches of government, members of legislature were elected by its people. They expected parliamentarians to protect their rights. The treaty sought to do that. Legislators had to push the executive branch to ratify and sign the treaty and after that, “it’s our duty to make sure that we implement it into law that will protect our people”.
Ms. Cederfelt said the treaty was only the beginning of the process. It must be followed by implementation at a national level. In Sweden, all eight political parties in its parliament were strong supporters of the treaty, which was more than just regulating the arms trade. It could address accompanying issues, such as corruption, drugs and trafficking.
Mr. Irbec said excessive accumulation and uncontrolled spread of arms, especially small arms and light weapons, posed a significant threat to peace and security, as well as to social and economic development of all the countries. There was a close relationship between the illicit trade in arms and terrorism, as well. As a country directly bearing the effect of the illicit trade and trafficking of arms in its region, Turkey was committed to actively pursuing a strong and effective treaty containing the highest possible, legally binding standards for the international transfer of conventional weapons.
The conference on the arms trade treaty had failed to reach consensus last July, but the door remained open for mutually acceptable compromise to be reached at the end of the ongoing conference, he added. It was of paramount importance for all States to display political courage to agree to the treaty.
Mr. Pritchard said he was more positive than some people on the treaty, because having a global arms trade treaty “within our grasp” was unheard of 20 years ago. The United Kingdom had cross-party consensus on getting an agreement. He also paid tribute to the “massive efforts” of non-governmental organizations in the process. They worked so hard and tirelessly, often without praise and credit.
Asked which countries were to blame for watering down the treaty and if a weak instrument was acceptable to start with, Ms. Oudit said no country was to blame, because making legislation and a treaty was difficult. Still, she would not accept a weak pact.
Mr. Pritchard said having a weak treaty was still better than nothing. Progress had been made. On human rights elements in the treaty, he urged Iran, which had assumed the presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement, to resolve the key outstanding issues in the draft treaty and remind the world that Iran was a serious international player upholding global rules and norms.
Asked if human rights safeguards in the treaty were satisfactory, Ms. Cederfelt said they were “a little weak”, but “better than nothing”. As for a question about arms flowing into Syria, she said Sweden manufactured weapons and would continue to do so, because they were part of the country’s science, industry and economy. But, Sweden wanted weapons to be regulated, so that they were used safely and responsibly. Weapons were important for peacekeeping and major exporters should agree to the treaty.
Ms. Oudit pointed out that the arms trade could easily shift from legality to illegality, because transit, trans-shipment and brokering remained unregulated. “Those are the loopholes that remained unplugged,” she said. Monitoring those movements was an area where “we need to have teeth”.