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At the ATT Diplomatic Conference for the week of July 2-6, 2012 – Firsthand Account

July 11, 2012

By Donald Mellman MD MPH, IPPNW member and delegate to the Arms Trade Treaty Diplomatic Conference at the United Nations, New York City

(N.B.: The described events are as I perceived them. All opinions are my own, and are (probably) not those of anyone else. – dlm)

Some thoughts

  1. The ATT is like a four- act play, one act per week, with a cast of hundreds – many of whom are at a distance, such as in a capital. This first week was notable for:
    1. Intrigue: the proceedings were delayed for a day and a half asEgypt attempted to elevate the status ofPalestine within the UN for these negotiations. The resolution: The Holy See was not allowed to participate (I don’t understand it either.). Rumors abounded; including Hillary Clinton calling Egypt and the EU calling Ramallah
    2. Tragedy: The Chair, Garcia Moritán from Argentina, presented his thoughts in a paper as suggestions for a starting point for the negotiations. The paper was felt by many in the NGO community to be watered-down from that of July of last year. Ambassador Moritán said people may not like it – he was right.
    3. A play-within-a-play: IPPNW’s July 6 side event sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the United Nations was both well-attended and well-received. Ogebe Onazi, MD (IPPNW/Nigeria and Society of Nigerian Doctors for the Welfare of Mankind) moderated the panel and introduced Mr. Richards Adejola, Minister, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Nigeria, who spoke on the important relationship of the ATT and health. Cathey Falvo, MD MPH (IPPNW/US and president of International Society of Doctors for the Environment) spoke on A Framework on Global Health and the ATT. Diego Zavala, PhD, Ponce School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Puerto Rico, spoke on The Latin American Perspective on Health Costs of Armed Violence.  Adebayo Owoeye, MD (IPPNW/Nigeria and Nigerian Doctors for the Welfare of Mankind) told of his research that led to Health Lessons form Terrorist Attacks in Nigeria. Andrew Kanter, MD MPH (President, PSR, and a board member of IPPNW) was the final speaker and discussed the Social and Ecological Costs of Armed Violence. There were good comments and questions from the floor, allowing Andy Kanter to proffer the realpolitik notion that the ATT is an incremental step in improving global health by decreasing armed violence. (Incidentally, I attended a video exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art on July 4 that dramatically showed the relationships of the oil in the Niger delta, big oil companies, corrupt government, destruction of the environment, poverty of the people living in the delta, and western profits. I discussed the exhibit with Ogebe and Adebayo, and praised them for their humanitarian work in their homeland.)
    4. A stunt: To open the proceedings, Control Arms put on a stunt outside the UN   (Pictures)       (Video)
    5. e.      The presence of “Royalty”: On Tuesday, July 3, Ogebe Onazi, MD, presented Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with IPPNW’s “Medical Alert for a Strong ATT” with over 1700 physicians, nurses, and other medical professionals’ signatures. Also part of Control Arms’ “Speak Out Campaign Handover Ceremony” were a Parliamentarian Declaration, representing thousands of parliament members from all over the world, and an Interfaith Declaration from the Interfaith Coalition.Image

Some Comments

  1. 1.      From the “where you stand on an issue depends on where you sit” department: IPPNW and the others in the Control Arms Coalition insist the ATT is humanitarian in mission. Delegation members have told me the ATT is transparency in mission in the hopes of decreasing illegal transfers. Any humanitarian benefit will be derived from that transparency.
  2. 2.      Be aware:
    1. The substantive issues of the ATT will be negotiated and decided in formal closed sessions and private discussions by the various delegations from which IPPNW and all others in the NGO community are largely excluded except for representatives from the NGO community who sit on formal delegations.  NGOs still have many opportunities to participate and influence the proceedings in many ways by lobbying and educating and providing technical assistance.
    2. Should one choose to divide the world into those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who say, “What happened?”, then the NGO community has had successes and tries hard to be in the first category (and indeed, has been instrumental in bringing the ATT this far), is fortunate when it is in the second, but, alas, often finds itself in the third. Two examples:

i.   Members of the North American Region NGOs met with the US delegation, and were told that all US decisions regarding the ATT will be made “at the highest levels in Washington,” after information and comments have been forwarded by the US Delegation. Can we still influenceWashington? Sometimes.

ii.   The Chair decided to begin substantive discussions in a two-track process – both open and closed meetings occurring simultaneously.  The first day of these sessions was on Goals and Objectives and Scope. I attended the open session of the Goals and Objectives discussion Friday morning (The closed session would be held in the afternoon, and I would not be allowed to attend.) I attended the open session of the Scope discussion Friday afternoon (The closed session had been in the morning.), and was soon asked to leave – along with all other NGO members – as the sub-chair of that discussion decided to continue in closed session.

  1. The issue of ammunition:

i.   The US is looking primarily for more transparency in the legal trade of conventional arms in the ATT. TheUSis against including ammunition in the scope unless another country will show an effective and efficient way to do so.

ii.   An interesting consequence to such ammunition monitoring that had not occurred to me: once ammunition is monitored, all countries will know how much ammunition each other has, and this information can be used for strategic purposes, such as when to attack that country.

  1. 3.   Re those for and those against the ATT:
    1. Pro:

i.   Many of the NGOs in favor of a strong ATT belong to the Control Arms Coalition (  IPPNW is on the steering board of Control Arms.

  1. Con:

i.   There are those against the ATT in its entirety. The NRA sees the ATT as a “slippery slope” to gun control in the US. despite the fact that specifically and formally, the ATT does not affect gun laws within a state.  (See UNODA “Myths and Facts” on the ATT)

ii.   If you believe “Keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer,” then you should consider listening to these.

  1. Marygreeley1954 You Tube July 6, 2012 blog against the ATT.
  3. I am a great believer in Edmund Burke’s “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (and women) to do nothing.”
  4. 4.      US State Department: 2012-07-06 : Statement at the United Nations Conference On The Arms Trade Treaty
    Statement at the United Nations Conference On The Arms Trade Treaty. Rather,
    this treaty will regulate only the international trade in arms.

My opinion re passage of an ATT that will improve the transparency of the legal arms trade which will then make illegal transfers more difficult and thus improve the global health, relieve poverty, and increase development: cautiously optimistic.

I hope to return in mid-July until the end of the scheduled negotiations on the 27th.  It is too late to register and join me and the others who have already planned to be here, but we hope you will support our efforts.

Image Donald L. Mellman, MD, MPH

One Comment
  1. July 11, 2012 12:13 pm

    Donald, awesome remarks from you. I am impressed with this update.

Comments are closed.

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