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No Winners at the Finish Line of the ATT Diplomatic Conference

August 6, 2012

by Bob Mtonga, MD, Shannon Gearhart, MD, Don Mellman, MD

The ATT discussion collapsed in the mid-afternoon of July 27, the final day, when the US delegation head, Tom Countryman, announced the US needed “more time” to study the treaty. Then Russia, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), and Canada followed with similar statements. According to Jeff Abramson, director of the Control Arms secretariat,  the president of the ATT negotiations conference Ambassador Moritan reportedly had the promise of the ATT skeptics (i.e. DPRK, Cuba, etc.) to not block the passage and thus was “furious” (Jeff’s word) at the US. The reason(s) for the US final position remain unclear but media reports suggest it could be pressure from the NRA and/or the appearance of weakness in foreign affairs in this election year. We still need to learn more from them and their public answers are insufficient.   (I am on multiple US State Department list serves and have copied and pasted its 07/28/2012 press release re the ATT below.  – dlm)

A summary of the last day that I particularly enjoyed was Matthew Bolton”s and can be read at

 Bob wants you to know:

  • As part of the leadership of civil society he participated in the “Scenario Planning” which outlined possible end results:
    • A good treaty with all of the strong elements, but no or only a few states as signatories.
    • A good treaty with most of the good points and a good sign on.
    • A watered down treaty and all states on board.
    • There is no treaty, and then take the process elsewhere.

However, what we got: A good treaty overtaken by politics. States were thought to be negotiating in good faith, but some were not.

What is good:

  • We have raised the bar for humanitarian approaches: states fought for the highest possible standards to be in the ATT.
  • Civil society worked as one through Control Arms and contributed to the raising of that bar by persistently reminding the states of their obligations.
  • We did not get a “rubbish treaty.”
  • Civil society did nothing wrong; we were defeated by politics.
  • We will be back. (Reminiscent of General Douglas MacArthur’s “I shall return” to the peoples of the Philippines in WWII. – dlm)

 Shannon wants you to know:

  • The handover of the Medical Health Alert signed by 1700 health professionals underscored the importance of IPPNW and the health community’s participation in the negotiations.
  • IPPNW was forceful and assertive as civil society made sure International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law were kept as the focus of the ATT.
  • IPPNW authored and published an article on global health and the ATT in the Thursday, July 26th ATT Monitor distributed to all delegates. Read it here.

Don learned:

  • Behind every political issue, whether it is in the US, Israel, Gaza, the UN, or Tampa, Florida there are the “First Two Rules of Politics: 1) Get elected. 2) Get re-elected.” (I forget the congressman to whom this attributed. –dlm).
  • Certain “regions” wanted to be signatories as well as their member states; specifically, the EU. China said its capital would not support such a measure UNTIL the EU lifted its arms embargo to China. Should that embargo be lifted, China would then support the EU’s request.
  • The Holy See and many Arab countries were opposed to the term “Gender-based Violence.” They wished only reference to violence against women. Sixty-three countries, including the US, formally requested GBV be the term. To me, the refusal to accept GBV as a formal term was anti-gay. The argument was made by those against using the GBV term was based on it being undefined and not normally used in UN papers. Apparently, this argument is incorrect.

The latest draft of the ATT will be attached to Ambassador Moritan’s report to the UN General Assembly.  According to Bob, there are theoretically three scenarios.

  • ( 1 ) The UNGA may accept the Draft and thus make it a law if two-thirds of the GA votes so;
  • (2 ) The UNGA  may reject the report, close the chapter, or issue a new mandate;
  • (3) The UNGA may grant the process more time to tie the loose ends.

On the last day of the conference, 90 countries issued a joint statement that included  the following, ”

 “We came to New York a month ago to achieve a strong and robust Arms Trade Treaty. We had expected to adopt such a draft Treaty today.

We believe we were very close to reaching our goals. We are disappointed this process has not come to a successful conclusion today. We are disappointed, but we are not discouraged.

Mr. President [Moritan, of the ATT], we call on you to report to the General Assembly on the progress we made, so that we can finalize our work.

We are determined to secure an Arms Trade Treaty as soon as possible. One that would bring about a safer world for the sake of all humanity.”

In a press statment (see below), the US said ” we do not support a vote in the UNGA on the current text.”

Civil society organisations will continue to engage whichever way it will go. The Control Arms Coalition will be in New York ready ready to continue come October during the UNGA.

International politics: very interesting. New meaning to the term real politik.

Respectfully submitted,

Bob                                                         Shannon                                   Don


Arms Trade Treaty Conference US Press Statement

Victoria Nuland

Department Spokesperson, Office of the Spokesperson

Washington, DC

July 27, 2012

The United States supports the outcome today at the Arms Trade Treaty Conference. While the Conference ran out of time to reach consensus on a text, it will report its results and the draft text considered back to the UN General Assembly (UNGA). The United States supports a second round of negotiations, conducted on the basis of consensus, on the Treaty next year; we do not support a vote in the UNGA on the current text. The illicit trafficking of conventional arms is an important national security concern for the United States. While we sought to conclude this month’s negotiations with a Treaty, more time is a reasonable request for such a complex and critical issue. The current text reflects considerable positive progress, but it needs further review and refinement.

With that in mind, we will continue to work towards an Arms Trade Treaty that will contribute to international security, protect the sovereign right of states to conduct legitimate arms trade, and meet the objectives and concerns that we have been articulating throughout the negotiation, including not infringing on the constitutional right of our citizens to bear arms. The United States took a principled stand throughout these negotiations that international trade in conventional arms is a legitimate enterprise that is and should remain regulated by the individual nations themselves, and we continue to believe that any Arms Trade Treaty should require states to develop their own national regulations and controls and strengthen the rule of law regarding arms sales.

We support an Arms Trade Treaty because we believe it will make a valuable contribution to global security by helping to stem illicit arms transfers, and we will continue to look for ways for the international community to work together to improve the international arms transfer regime so that weapons aren’t transferred to people who would abuse them.

PRN: 2012/1235

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