Australia has joined 11 other countries in calling on the UN General Assembly to adopt an Arms Trade Treaty as soon as possible, after Syria, Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea today blocked efforts to secure a deal at a global conference in New York.
Oxfam expressed ‘immense frustration’ with the consensus-based negotiation process that has allowed just three countries to effectively veto today’s agreement at the eleventh hour.
Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Dr Helen Szoke said that despite a last minute attempt by Mexico, Japan and several countries to save the process, the President of the Conference, Ambassador Peter Woolcott of Australia, reached a conclusion that consensus could not be achieved today.
“The historic treaty is still within reach, and the final 24 hours of negotiations have demonstrated that countries are in almost unanimous agreement that this treaty needs to pass in order to curb the deadly irresponsible weapons trade,” Dr Szoke said.
The earliest that the UN General Assembly can adopt the treaty – by a two-thirds majority vote – is Tuesday 2 April, when Peter Woolcott will be presenting his report. This proposal gained the support of a large number of other countries across Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Pacific.
It is widely anticipated the treaty will then pass by majority, enshrining in international law for the first time ever a set of rules to regulate the global arms trade.
“We are not downhearted,” Dr Szoke said. “This treaty will become a reality – it’s just a matter of time. We believe the fight for an Arms Trade Treaty is almost over and we hope we are close to the start of a new era.
“After 10 years of campaigning, we have a clear message for human rights abusers and gunrunners – your time is nearly up.”
Oxfam has broadly welcomed the new draft text, though it has criticised gaps remaining in crucial areas.
There are concerns the list of weapons to be covered under the draft text is still too narrow and the criteria by which governments will assess whether to authorise an arms transfer is ambiguous.
Dr Szoke praised Australia’s strong support of an Arms Trade Treaty, and said it should see it as a starting point which set new international standards. Once passed, Australia should sign and ratify the treaty as soon as possible and work with other countries to improve it over time.
“Lives are lost each day because there is currently such poor regulation of the arms trade,” Dr Szoke said.
“It’s been a long hard road to get to this point but almost all countries believe now is the time for a treaty. Once the treaty has been passed, the real work of implementing it will start and only then will it actually change people’s lives on the ground.”
For interviews please contact Laurelle Keough at Oxfam Australia on 0425 701 801
Note: Oxfam Australia’s Humanitarian Advocacy Coordinator Ben Murphy has been in New York for these negotiations.