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Arms Trade Treaty Moves Closer Towards Implementation

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The first step towards the effective implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) took place this week in Mexico City. Forty five countries around the world have already ratified the ATT, which requires governments to address the illegal and irresponsible arms trade that facilitates armed violence, human rights abuses, and humanitarian law violations. Later this month, it’s anticipated the treaty will be ratified by a 50th country and — in doing so — will become international law 90 days later.

The government of Mexico hosted 70 governments and more than 25 observers from the United Nations, European Union, International Committee of the Red Cross, and civil society in the first informal consultations for the First Conference of States Parties to the ATT. As the first global legally binding treaty to regulate the cross-border trade in conventional weapons, the ATT establishes criteria that governments will apply when making their international arms export decisions.

The ATT applies rules to what, until now, has been an unregulated global arms trade, made up of a patchwork of national laws with varied rules and standards. These inconsistencies have allowed conventional weapons to spread with impunity around the world, fueling violent conflicts and crime, and putting weapons in the hands of rogue regimes, rebel groups, terrorist organizations, and criminals quickly and easily. After seven years of diplomacy at the United Nations, the General Assembly adopted the treaty by an astounding vote with more than 150 countries supporting the treaty. Many of the governments present in Mexico are eager to see the treaty universalized and implemented quickly.

Once the treaty enters into force, which may be as soon as December 2014, the first Conference of States Parties (CSP) will be organized. The CSP is the forum where states can review the operation, implementation, and efficacy of the treaty. The first CSP is responsible for adopting the rules of procedure but could also take decisions on subsequent meetings, financing mechanisms, as well as the location, structure, and financing for the ATT Secretariat — the body established to assist states parties in effectively implementing the treaty.

The meeting in Mexico was the first opportunity for treaty ratifiers, signatories, and observers that have worked to promote or support the ATT to lay out their views on the key issues related to the organization of the first CSP. Participants tackled a wide range of issues over the course of two days, including decision making mechanisms for procedural and substantive decisions for the treaty’s operation and financing. While such discussions may seem quite bureaucratic, in reality, the rules of procedure can set the tone for a cooperative and constructive, as well as an effective and useful treaty. For the ATT to meet its full potential, governments will need to make decisions that allow the treaty to make a difference, not be stuck in administrative quicksand.

Although the meeting in Mexico City was for ATT ratifiers and signatories – those who share the goal of effective implementation of the ATT – many issues remain contentious and unresolved. Some governments favor an early first CSP, while others would rather wait until a later date, when more countries have become party to the Treaty. Mexico has been unopposed in hosting the first CSP, but the hosting of the ATT’s secretariat is still undecided, with Austria, Switzerland, and Trinidad and Tobago all competing for the position. Issues related to participation, including the role of civil society, as well as financing of the secretariat also have differing views.

The Mexico meeting did not make any final decisions aside from agreeing to meet again at the end of November in Berlin, Germany. The future schedule for additional meetings was left to be determined, but there was overall consensus that it would be difficult to hold the first CSP prior to June 2015. Thus, in Berlin governments will have to decide if they need one or two formal preparatory meetings before the first CSP. Switzerland has offered to host the final preparatory meeting in 2015. Governments will have to make use of the intersessional period and potential working groups to develop proposals for the outstanding issues, including draft rules of procedures, a way forward for establishing and financing the Secretariat, and potential reporting templates.

While questions remain, it was clear this week in Mexico that the momentum of the ATT continues. Governments remain committed to seeing the treaty applied effectively and as quickly as possible. The end result will go far in decreasing the immeasurable human suffering around the world caused by the uncontrolled proliferation of conventional arms.

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