LONDON, July 26: Arms control campaigners who have been urging the UN to approve the first global arms trade treaty have condemned a draft text as “weak and confusing” and warn that it will not save lives.
The international development charity Oxfam said that if the treaty were not toughened up before the month-long talks ended on Friday, it could become meaningless, and would not even stop arms shipments by Moscow to Syria.
British diplomats were more optimistic, insisting the draft was a “strong basis” for what could be the first global treaty to regulate the way arms are bought and sold. But they conceded that “more work was required” in certain contentious areas, and said the UK would not compromise on some core demands.
The schisms between the sides are likely to become more pronounced as the end of the week approaches, and there are fears among activists that some nations will try to browbeat smaller countries to accept a weak final text.
The talks at the UN in New York are the culmination of a decade-long effort to get a global treaty. The majority of nations, including the UK, began by demanding a robust text that would prohibit arms sales to countries with poor human rights records, and make independent arms dealers more liable to scrutiny.
But a small number of states, including the US, Russia and China, expressed concern about the scope of some of the proposals.
The US said it did not want ammunition included in any treaty.
Russia and China were said to oppose criteria that would have outlawed arms transfers to countries that might use the weapons for human rights abuses. This week a draft text was published that appeared to fudge some of these issues.
Oxfam, one of the leading campaign groups for the treaty, said the draft's lack of clarity meant it was “far too weak to achieve its humanitarian goals”. This text “would lead to few, if any, lives being saved”.
Anna Macdonald, Oxfam's head of arms control, said the draft did not cover all conventional weapons, was ambiguous about ammunition and unconvincing on the issue of human rights. She said the threshold had been set so high it would only prohibit arms sales in situations where the weapons were intended for genocide. The draft would also let countries honour existing contracts to states no matter how much circumstances changed.
“This means Russia could continue to supply arms to Syria,” she said. “That is a key test for us. Would the draft [treaty] stop Russia arming Syria? No it wouldn't.”
The UK delegation in New York, which has included the British ministers Alan Duncan and Alistair Burt, insisted it had not compromised on its core demands.
“Inevitably there are still areas in the draft that require more work,” said one British diplomat. “However, this is the closest the international community has been to agreeing a treaty that effectively regulates the international trade in conventional arms. It is crucial we do not miss this vital opportunity to secure a robust and effective, legally binding, (treaty).”
The treaty must be approved unanimously, so any one country can effectively veto a deal on Friday.
By arrangement with the Guardian