Control Arms members gathered in Trinidad and Tobago to demonstrate that there’s a better use for steel than weapons and ammunition.
Campaginers are in Port of Spain for the First Preparatory Meeting toward the First Conference of States (CSP) Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) taking place in Port of Spain from 23 – 24 February.
Coalition members held signs stating “There is a better use for steel” against the backdrop of a performance from the Sapophonic Steel Band, a steel orchestra. The performance also served to reinforce the coalition’s call for effective implementation of the ATT and that this is a ‘#chance2change’ the arms trade.
The Port of Spain conference is the first formal Preparatory Conference to plan for the first CSP which is scheduled to take place in September 2015. It follows preliminary meetings that took place in Mexico City and Berlin in 2014. Over 80 governments are attending the Port of Spain meeting to discuss the Treaty’s future rules of procedure, its financing mechanisms, the location, structure and mandate of the ATT Secretariat as well as the level of participation given civil society and States not Party to the Treaty.
45 colleagues from across the Control Arms Coalition are participating at the meeting, where top on the agenda are decisions relating to the level of participation allowed to civil society, the Treaty’s future rules of procedure, financing mechanisms, and the location, structure and remit of the official ATT Secretariat. Control Arms will be pushing for effective participation of civil society at the CSP, as well as effective rules for decision-making and financing.
Control Arms will also launch the first report from the new ATT Monitor project at the meeting, which focuses on reporting patterns among signatories and States Parties to the ATT.
Folade Mutota from the Caribbean Coalition for Development and the Reduction of Armed Violence (CDRAV) said, “We in the Caribbean know only too well the havoc that is wreaked by an arms trade that is out of control. Trinidad and Tobago is showing leadership in hosting this conference, which represents an important milestone in the implementation of the ATT. We call on all governments to ensure this conference is a success, and helps to further successful implementation of the Treaty.”
In a previous post, we congratulated the German government on halting arms exports to Saudi Arabia. However, it turns out that the Bild am Sonntag report that was at the root of this story was excessively optimistic. Further investigations have revealed that rather than halting all arms transfers to Saudi Arabia, there has been no obvious change to German policy. Indeed, the country has just recently licensed new arms exports that include border control software and shooting simulators.
However, for the moment we have no clear evidence that the German government has changed a policy that continues to equip an oppressive regime frequently criticized for their human rights record.Control Arms members continue to call on all governments who have not already done so to ratify or accede to the Arms Trade Treaty. Control Arms also specifically calls on governments including Germany, the United Kingdom, and Canada to finally take note of Saudi Arabia’s abysmal human rights record and halt all arms exports.
Switzerland became the 62nd country to ratify the Arms Trade Treaty on 30 January when Ambassador Paul Seger deposited their instrument of ratification at UN headquarters. Switzerland is the first state to ratify the ATT since it entered into force and became international law on Christmas Eve of last year. In a statement released by on the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, they are quoted as saying “This is in keeping with the country’s traditional role as an advocate for humanitarian concerns, in particular in regard to international humanitarian law and Switzerland’s active peace policy.”
Switzerland’s ratification is also significant given their status as a top-15 global arms exporter.
The Swiss government was among first countries to sign the treaty when it opened for signature in June of 2013, and is one of three countries also bidding to host the Secretariat of the ATT, alongside Trinidad and Tobago and Austria.
UPDATE: Changing circumstances on German arms sales to Saudi Arabia
Germany has made a decision to halt all arms exports to Saudi Arabia, becoming the first major arms exporter to do so. In 2013, Germany sent more than US$400 million worth of arms to a country that has been widely criticized for serious violations of human rights. The current sentencing of blogger Raif Badawi to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes is but one recent example, even as many world leaders are describing Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, who passed away last week, as a reformer. German government sources have cited instability in the region as the basis for the halt while other outlets have stressed that Saudi Arabia’s human rights record may have also been influential in Germany’s decision. The risk of undermining peace and security and the risk of human rights violations are central to the Arms Trade Treaty’s risk assessment criteria for approving or denying arms transfers.
Roy Isbister of Saferworld welcomed Germany’s recent action saying, “Germany has made it clear that profits aren’t the only thing that should be considered when dealing weapons to oppressive regimes. Other major arms exporters that provide Saudi Arabia with everything from assault rifles and ammunition to fighter jets must follow Germany’s lead and stop these transfers immediately. The United Kingdom is a major source of these arms and should be the next in line to take action.”
Control Arms welcomes Germany’s decision to put a stop to arms exports with Saudi Arabia and urges other major exporters to follow suit. Last week, Control Arms also urged the United Kingdom to cease exports to Saudi Arabia, the biggest destination for British arms. Coalition members based in Canada have criticized the Canadian government, for its on-going arms transfers there.
The United Kingdom has come under pressure for their ongoing arms exports to Saudi Arabia, widely seen as a country with an exceptionally questionable reputation for respecting human rights. Control Arms coalition member Amnesty International has cited examples of excessive use of force, torture, and other serious areas of human rights concern in the country.
Saudi Arabia is the UK’s biggest destination for arms exports with the most recent available annual export totals (2013) amounting to over $2.2 billion. Despite being the top destination for UK arms exports, Saudi Arabia remains a “country of concern” on the Human Rights and Democracy Report published by the UK Foreign Office. By sending arms while acknowledging widespread human rights violations, the United Kingdom is acting at odds with the Arms Trade Treaty which entered into force on 24 December 2014.
Amnesty International UK Programme Director Oliver Sprague said, “for many years, Saudi has been UK’s largest arms customer, with Government reports year on year revealing billions of pounds worth of arms sales including fighter jets , armoured vehicles, small arms. ammunition and policing equipment including tear gas and components for water cannon. It is unclear how these arms sales are in anyway compatible with the UK’s obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty, a Treaty which now requires the UK to stop exporting weapons where this is a very real risk that those weapons could fuel serious human rights violations. The scale of such continued arms sales and the high levels of political support they appear to receive suggest that in these cases, the UK is putting profits before the human rights principles it so strongly championed within the ATT.”
As a major exporter, a champion of the development of the Arms Trade Treaty, and a State Party to the ATT, the United Kingdom has a unique opportunity to begin establishing the norm that the ATT will need to change the way the global arms trade works.
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The United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs has just released a publication titled “Arms Trade Treaty: Signature and Ratification.” This brochure acts as a step by step guide that describes the procedures that States must follow in order to sign, ratify, accept, approve, or accede to the Arms Trade Treaty. Click here to read the full brochure.