Published On: Thu, Apr 18th, 2013

The Arms Trade Treaty: A Pan-African Global Policy Victory

In a landslide UN General Assembly vote last week, representatives of the world’s governments endorsed theArms Trade Treaty (ATT), which will control the global traffic in conventional weapons, currently so poorly regulated that the international markets in bananas, tomatoes and bubble gum are more restrictive than the trade in AK-47 assault rifles.

In a statement from the floor, the delegate from the Ivory Coast, speaking on behalf of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), called the treaty “a first step, but a decisive and significant one” towards reducing the human suffering caused by an unconstrained trade in weapons in Africa and around the world.

African lobbying

Once it enters into force, the new treaty will prohibit transfers in conventional weapons to states and organisations that engage in terrorism, organised crime, genocide, war crimes and other gross violations of human rights and humanitarian law.

“This treaty is long overdue. Too much blood has been spilt in Africa through armed violence fuelled by the flood of weapons into our continent”, said Baffour Amoa, President of the West African Action Network on Small Arms. “States now need to put the necessary resources towards ensuring effective implementation which will enhance peace and security across Africa, and lead to accelerated development.”

The ATT had the overwhelming support of African states, civil society and faith groups. All African states that voted did so in favour, with the exception of Egypt, Sudan and Swaziland, which abstained. Cape Verde, Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tome and Principe, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe did not vote.

The African continent disproportionately bears the human costs of the arms trade, having sufferedthe majority of deaths from armed violence since 1990. A 2007 investigation by Oxfam, the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) and SaferWorld found that the cost of armed conflict in Africa – in military expenditures, health costs, reconstruction, lost tax revenue and depressed productivity – is approximately $18 billion a year, on average reducing a state’s economic output by 15%.

Kenya was a co-sponsor of the 2006 UN General Assembly Resolution that initiated the negotiating process. Nigeria and Ghana, along with other ECOWAS states, have also played a significant role in the negotiations, often speaking on behalf of “the Africa Group” – the common ATT negotiating bloc of almost all the sub-Saharan states.

African leadership in the treaty negotiations, particularly at the July 2012 and March 2013 diplomatic conferences, were crucial in making sure that small arms and light weapons were included in the scope of regulated weapons, and that there were provisions for regulating ammunition.

“This treaty not only needs to regulate transfers of small arms and light weapons, it also must regulate the bullets and ammunitions which actually kill people, and without which guns may be reduced to silence and peace efforts would bear fruits”, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberiatold ATT conference delegates last July.

But the treaty that was approved has some notable loopholes and weaknesses. Ammunition and parts and components of weapons are covered in a less stringent part of the treaty. Assistance to victims of armed violence has been relegated to the preamble. Earlier draft provisions taking into consideration the impact of the arms trade on socio-economic development have disappeared in the final text. There are also concerns that categories of weapons included in the scope may not be flexible enough to cover new weapons technologies.

As a result, it is not enough to see the passage of the ATT as a success for African states. One must also ask the question of whether African states got the treaty they actually wanted, and how they decided on what to ask for.

African civil society shifts the agenda of African states

Post-Cold War scholarship in the field of international relations, particularly from the Constructivist School, has questioned the notion that states have stable, unchanging and straightforward ‘national interests’. Rather, what states seek from international policymaking is shaped by global norms, ideology, discourse and domestic politics. This means that civil society, faith groups, the media and academia often have more influence over global policymaking than traditional ‘state-centric’ theories of international relations would predict.

An examination of whether African states got what they wanted from the ATT needs to look at how they decided what they wanted and whether this changed over time. A close look at what African states asked for from the negotiations at different points in the process reveals that their priorities shifted, perhaps due to the influence of an active and powerful coalition of African civil society and faith groups.

“African churches and civil society are speaking out because life is of extreme value and must be protected and preserved as much as possible”, Baffour Amoa, President of the West African Action Network on Small Arms, told Think Africa Press. “The death of a child, brother, sister, mother, father or a grandparent because of proliferation of small arms and light weapons or other conventional weapons must be protested in the strongest terms possible.”

In the Preparatory Committees between 2010-2012, held in advance of the main ATT negotiations, the Africa Group focused their comments on more traditional “national security interests” rather than humanitarian concerns. They focused narrowly on prevention of the illicit trade, keeping arms from “unauthorised non-State actors” and protecting the “special rights of arms importing states” (according to Oxfam, as much as 95% of the weapons used in Africa comes from outside the continent).

However, in collaboration with the global advocacy campaign Control Arms, African civil society and faith-based organisations engaged in a concerted advocacy effort to persuade states to adopt broader and more progressive positions on the treaty.

“While the legitimate right of states to acquire weapons to assure peace and security is inherent in the United Nations Charter, arms proliferation and irresponsible weapons transfers ought to be checked”, said Amoa. “The desires of dictators and the need to uphold commercial interests ought to be weighed against the overall welfare of citizens.”

In her opening video address to the July 2012 negotiating conference, President Johnson Sirleaf demonstrated the Africa Group’s shift in tone and position. Saying she was “acutely aware of the devastation” caused by conflicts in Africa, she highlighted the humanitarian impact of the arms trade on people’s lives, destroying “tens of thousands of lives” and imposing economic costs – “money our continent can ill afford to lose”.

President Johnson Sirleaf also saluted the “diligence and perseverance of NGOs”, saying that “when states forget that they exist, first and foremost, to protect their citizens, it is vital that civil society continues to remind us of our responsibilities”.

As a result, during the two final negotiating conferences, African states came out strongly in favour of provisions that would expand the treaty’s scope beyond traditional national interests to reflect more ‘human security‘ concerns, such as preventing arms transfers that threatened socio-economic development or contributed to gender-based violence.

“We recognise that an Arms Trade Treaty would…help save lives, prevent human rights abuses, and protect minority rights and livelihoods of people around the world”, said Ambassador Chris Kpodo, Ghana’s deputy minister for foreign affairs during the July conference. “We wish to re-affirm that an ATT that would regulate conventional arms is borne more out of the humanitarian concerns that it is expected to address and not solely as a disarmament or trade treaty.”

African Leadership in the ATT endgame

On the last day of what was intended to be the culminating Diplomatic Conference in July 2012, negotiations fell apart, scuttled by the US, Russia and China, along with a small number of other sceptical states.

When the Final Diplomatic Conference opened this March, the Africa Group joined many other states in a series of joint statements calling for a strong ATT, with “the highest possible common international standards for the international transfer of conventional arms”.

For example, Ghana, on behalf of ECOWAS, led a group of 69 states (33 from Africa) in a formal statement saying that the “comprehensive control of the international transfer of ammunition and munitions is fundamental to the goals and objectives of the Arms Trade Treaty”. Ghana also offered a statement on behalf of 103 states calling for provisions on accountability and transparency as well as a broad definition of arms transfers.

While they did not get everything they wanted, the final draft treaty released on 27 March by the conference chair Peter Woolcott, included most of the Africa Group’s core demands. There are provisions on small arms and light weapons, as well as ammunition and parts and components. The treaty prohibits transfers to terrorist and organised crime groups and restricts the flow of arms to situations of widespread human rights and humanitarian law violations or gender-based violence.

However, the draft treaty ran into obstacles on the conference’s final day. When the text was put before the body, Iran, North Korea and Syria blocked its passage, appealing to the conference rule that the final decision would be made by consensus.

Mexico then took the floor and called on Woolcott to declare the treaty adopted anyway, since there is no clear definition of consensus. While Nigeria and several other states made statements backing this approach, the delegate from Russia was “categorically” against doing so, saying “we should never ignore the views of the minority”.

Kenya then took the floor and – on behalf of Nigeria, Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Japan, Finland, New Zealand, Norway, Mexico, US, and the UK – moved that the treaty be put to a vote in the UN General Assembly. “We have worked in the spirit of consensus”, said the Kenyan delegate, “the population of the world needs this treaty to reduce human suffering. The time for an ATT is now!”

Numerous states from around Africa and the world spoke in favour of Kenya’s bold move –departing from the consensus-driven norm of most UN disarmament and arms control negotiations – and on 2 April, the resolution was passed by a resounding majority in the UN General Assembly.

In a remarkable indicator of the impact of the Africa Group’s leadership in the ATT negotiations, Pakistan, which had been a major sceptic through most of the process, voted in favour of the resolution in “solidarity” with states impacted by the illicit arms trade in Africa and around the world.

“After 15 long years and millions killed, maimed or traumatised by gun violence, we are finally gratified that most of the world’s countries have finally supported a humanitarian-based Arms Trade Treaty”, said Robert Mtonga, co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and active participant in the Africa-wide civil society campaign for the ATT. “It is not perfect, but taken as a whole, it is groundbreaking in scope, and we are hopeful the world’s countries will enact it in the most comprehensive way.”

Source:Think Africa Press

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The Arms Trade Treaty: A Pan-African Global Policy Victory
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