UN Diplomats agree to conclude Arms Trade Treaty negotiations in 2013

Published: 8th November 2012

Governments pass UN resolution to hold major diplomatic conference next year with an unprecedented 157 'yes' votes, including China for the first time, 18 abstentions & 0 votes against

Governments negotiating an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) need to ensure that next year’s diplomatic conference - aimed at regulating the US$70 billion-worth weapons trade - is a success, said the Control Arms coalition today.

Discussions, over the last four weeks at the United Nations on the next steps for negotiations on a future treaty aimed at regulating the trade in conventional weapons and ammunition, ended today with the agreement to hold new talks next year.

Prior negotiations on the ATT, which took place during a Diplomatic Conference in July, ended in failure after several governments, including the United States, blocked the agreement by demanding extra time to agree on a draft text.

The “consensus” rule

Diplomats voted on Wednesday in favor of holding a final UN Conference on the ATT in March 2013 with the controversial stipulation that the text must be agreed under the “consensus” rule. Following intense lobbying by civil society, the resolution contains a proviso that if all states are not able to agree to a deal in March, the UN will keep the treaty on its current agenda. This would allow the text to be sent for a final vote at the UN General Assembly later in 2013. 

“Every day we are reminded of the need to bring the arms trade under control. In Syria, we have seen the death toll rise well over 30,000 with weapons and ammunition pouring in the country for months now. While agreeing on a deal next year is what’s needed, we do not want any Arms Trade Treaty. We need a treaty that will set tough rules to control the arms trade, that will save lives and truly make the world a better place,” said Jeff Abramson, Director of the Control Arms Secretariat. 

The Control Arms coalition has expressed its concern over the decision to produce an agreement by the “consensus rule”, putting at risk years of talks.

“The Arms Trade Treaty is too important for any one state to be able to wield a veto. Diplomats risk weakening the text to bring in support of skeptics like Egypt, North Korea and Venezuela. This is not in the spirit of the talks that were launched in 2006,” added Maria Pia Devoto of Asociación para Políticas Públicas (Argentina).

The UN resolution agreed today will base future negotiations on a draft treaty text from the July 2012 Diplomatic Conference. The draft gives a good basis for a strong treaty, but has a few “missing pieces” which must be resolved to ensure it is an effective treaty.

Several major concerns

The coalition is working to improve the text around several issues. One major concern is that ammunition, a deadly trade of over $US 4 billion annually which needs to be better regulated and monitored, is not yet properly included. Another clause could exempt weapons transfers from the treaty if they are labeled as part of a “national defense cooperation agreement”, leaving many current and future agreements outside the realm of an ATT. Campaigners are also worried that the threshold for denying an arms transfer is currently set too high, so that some irresponsible deals could still slip through the net.

“It is the voices of the overwhelming majority of states that want a strong treaty which must now be heard. While a treaty which includes the greatest number of states remains the core objective, a robust text will prove far more effective in the future than a compromise text that states subscribe to, but subsequently ignore. The agreement next year must be one that will ultimately make the greatest difference for victims of armed violence,” said Anna McDonald, Head of arms control at Oxfam.

Related links

Control Arms: Join the campaign for a global Arms Trade Treaty

We do not want any Arms Trade Treaty. We need a treaty that will set tough rules to control the arms trade, that will save lives and truly make the world a better place.
Jeff Abramson
Director of the Control Arms Secretariat

Contact information

Louis Belanger +1 917 224 0834