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News, 3/22/2013

“The time is right for an Arms Trade Treaty”

On Tuesday, March 19, the Permanent Mission of Finland to the United Nations hosted an Arms Trade Treaty side event on “Are we finally going to have an Arms Trade Treaty?”

The United Nations Final Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty is taking place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on 18-28 March 2013. The first round of negotiations took place in July 2012, but did not result in an agreement on a treaty text.

An Arms Trade Treaty will aim to create a level playing field for international arms transfers by requiring all states to abide by a set of standards for transfer controls, which will ultimately benefit the safety and security of people everywhere in the world.

The event on Tuesday, organized at the Finnish Consulate in New York, generated a lot of interest. 

The panelists included Dr Erkki Tuomioja, Foreign Minister of Finland and Mr Alistair Burt, UK Minister for Counter Proliferation. Non-governmental organisations were represented by Mr Roy Isbister, Team Leader, Small Arms and Transfer Controls, Saferworld and Ms Widney Brown, Senior Director for International Law and Policy from Amnesty International.

Mr Alistair Burt, UK Minister for Counter Proliferation and Dr Erkki Tuomioja, Foreign Minister of Finland.Mr Alistair Burt, UK Minister for Counter Proliferation and Dr Erkki Tuomioja, Foreign Minister of Finland. Photo: Pirjo-Liisa Heikkilä.

Commitment to the issue

Finnish Ambassador Riitta Resch opened and chaired the discussion.

All panelists agreed upon the fact that a strong, robust universal treaty is needed.

Minister Erkki Tuomioja said that he has never felt as optimistic. “This is a real issue concerning human lives, security and safety.”

He also made strong point about transparency. “The more we know, the fewer possibilities there are for misuse.”

He commented the work of the NGOs as having been very important partners in the ATT process. “We wouldn’t be here without the pressure from the NGOs.”

“We are all here because we are committed to the issue”, added Minister Alistair Burt. He disclosed the UK’s expectations of the ATT with the crowd. “Our desires and efforts are not new. We have been working for this for seven years.”

He emphasized the fact that UK will not sign a weak treaty, but said that we are now “closer than ever in achieving our aim.” “The human cost of poorly regulated arms trade is still too high. We have a historic opportunity to combat terrorism and save lives.”

He praised the significant progress that has been made in the Arms Trade Treaty process since negotiations last July. Still, he added: “One week is a long time in politics, but nine days is a short time to finalize the treaty.”

Positive momentum

Mr Roy Isbister stated confidently that an arms trade treaty will happen soon. “But what kind of arms trade treaty will we get?”

He referred back to several points on the statement from last July and said: “There’s a growing shared understanding on what the faults and issues of the July text are and what must be done to change them.”

He thanked Finland and the UK’s commitment to the cause and asked the other co-author countries to stop playing the part of a mere broker: “We need a group of responsible champions.” He said that he is looking forward to a nice robust ATT negotiation which will, he hopes, result in a “nice robust treaty”.

Amnesty’s representative Ms Widney Brown shared Mr Isbister’s appreciation of both Finland and the UK’s actions on the matter. She also agreed on the necessity of a robust, effective ATT with rigorous criteria. “The failure to regulate arms trade has taken a great toll on human lives.  States that sell arms enjoy financial benefits – it’s the buying and receiving countries where death and insecurities thrive.”

Other topics of discussion were the issue of ammunition, civil society encouragement, as well as the need for definitions to avoid ambiguity and loopholes on the actual treaty. 

Minister Erkki Tuomioja concluded the event by thanking the participants and saying that the discussion had been very relevant. He reminded everyone that the process will be long, but said: “The time is right.”

Ambassador Jarmo Viinanen, Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, Namibian Permanent Representative to the UN and Palestinian Permanent Representative to the UN.Ambassador Jarmo Viinanen, Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, Namibian Permanent Representative to the UN and Palestinian Permanent Representative to the UN. Photo: Pirjo-Liisa Heikkilä.

Tiia Rantanen

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Updated 3/22/2013

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