Ratification Of The Arms Trade Treaty4120 27 Jun, 2013
RATIFICATION OF THE ARMS TRADE TREATY
Minister of Foreign Affairs [Mrs. Rodrigues-Birkett]: I rise to speak to the motion standing in my name in relation to the ratification of the Arms Trade Treaty. As the motion indicates, on April 2nd, 2013, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the first legally binding multilateral treaty to regulate the international trade in conventional arms. One hundred and fifty-four countries voted in favour of the treaty, three against and 23 countries abstained. This means that more than 80% of the countries, which voted, voted for the treaty and we consider this as a remarkable achievement.
The treaty became open for signature on June 3rd, 2013, and now boasts 74 signatories. In addition to Guyana, 10 CARICOM Member States are among the current signatories to the treaty - Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.
The Arms Trade Treaty fills a critical gap, in international law, in the important domain of the transfers of conventional arms. Once effectively implemented, the treaty will make a real and positive difference for millions of people around the world, especially those who live in conflict areas.
The objective and purpose of the treaty, as stipulated in article 1, and included in the motion, are as follows:
• To establish the highest possible common international standards for regulating or improving the regulation of the international trade in conventional arms.
• Prevent and eradicate the illicit trade in conventional arms and prevent their diversion.
• For the purpose of contributing to international and regional peace, security and stability.
• Reduce human suffering
• Promoting cooperation, transparency and responsible action by state’s parties in the international trade in conventional arms, thereby building confidence among states parties.
For the purpose of clarity, let me indicate what is meant by conventional arms. Article 2(1) of the treaty stipulates the following categories: battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missile and missile launchers and small arms and light weapons. Mr. Speaker, you will see that we produce none of these.
Article 2(3) states that this treaty shall not apply to the international movement of conventional arms by, or on behalf of a state party for its use, providing that those arms remain under that state party’s ownership.
With respect to human life, it is a fact that the vast majority adversely affected by armed conflict and other forms of violence are civilians. The treaty recognises this, in addition to the security, social and economic and humanitarian consequences of the illicit and unregulated trade of conventional arms. It also recognises the challenges that victims face and their need for care, physical rehabilitation and social and economic inclusion.
Concerning illicit small arms and light weapons, the excessive accumulation, an uncontrolled flow of these, poses significant threat to peace, security and the social and economic development of many countries. Our own country and the region are witnesses to the devastating effect of these weapons. I should indicate that small arms and light weapons, that particular issue was a major concern for CARICOM countries and many of our diplomats worked tirelessly to ensure that that category of weapons was included in the Arms Trade Treaty.
First of all, small arms are cheap, light and easy to handle, transport and concealed. A build-up of small arms alone may not create the conflicts in which they are used but their excessive accumulation and wide availability aggravates the tension, according to the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. Most present day conflicts are fought daily with small arms. As I mentioned before, they are the weapons of choice in civil wars and for terrorism, organised crime and gang warfare. The majority of conflict deaths are caused by small arms. It is a dominant tool of criminal violence. In addition to that, more human rights abuses are committed with small arms than any other weapon. Yet, more is known about the number of nuclear warheads, stock of chemical weapons and transfer of major conventional weapons than about small arms. More than 1,000 companies across the world in about 100 countries are involved in some aspect of production with significant producers in about 30 countries, and about 8 million is produced per year. All of this is from the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. I wonder why some countries voted against the treaty.
It is envisaged that this treaty will contribute significantly to international and regional peace, security and stability and the reduction of human suffering. By effectively regulating the international trade in conventional arms making it more responsible and transparent and ensuring accountability, it should help to minimise, if not eradicate, the illicit trade in small arms.
This treaty came after seven years of diplomatic effort at the multilateral level against multiple odds, including the powerful gun lobby. As such processes go the end result would never be perfect, but it is a necessary and important step forward. It represents a balance of interest, in my opinion, from all sides, including from small developing countries, such as ours, which are neither exporters nor producers, to the larger arms manufacturing, exporting and importing countries.
As I mentioned before, for CARICOM countries, we were very concerned about small arms and light weapons and the fact that they are included in this treaty, I think, we should congratulate our diplomats who worked hard in this regard.
I want to particularly point out that the treaty includes the ammunition parts and components and diversions of legal arms in it. It is unfortunate, therefore, and, indeed, paradoxical, that while I come today to ask for this treaty to be ratified - I hope that it will be - that the piece of legislation, which came here before us to ensure that domestically we have the necessary legislation in place, did not receive the support of the Opposition. If it is possible - I believe that anything is possible in politics - we should try to correct this situation because I think that it would be a major contradiction to what we are saying as a country and what we are actually doing.
Guyana, as a Member of the CARICOM negotiating team, was in the forefront of this negotiating process and we are extremely pleased that such a large number of persons voted in favour of the treaty and signed on that historic day when the treaty was opened for signature. Guyana was one of the countries that signed on that very first day. The signing of the treaty was an important opportunity to reaffirm, before the international community, our strong commitment to the control of conventional arms. By signing, we have pledged to be a responsible party. It is now time for us to solidify this commitment and take the next step of ratifying the treaty. I ask this House to so do.
Thank you Mr. Speaker. [Applause]
Mrs. Rodrigues-Birkett (replying): I want to thank the speakers, the Hon. Members Ms. Africo Selman, Mr. Felix and Mr. Nagamootoo for their support for the motion before us. A common thread running in the presentations, by all the speakers, is that of the need to ensure that we have the enabling regulations and legislation to ensure that this treaty has teeth. Indeed, as I mentioned before, it is a travesty that up until now the import, export and diversion..., illegal that is, are still not on our law books as an offence. If we want an example of bad political management I think that that was one, because the Bill was here before us in the National Assembly.
Let me say that the UN register, right now, on conventional arms does not include small arms and light weapons. This treaty will now ensure that that reporting mechanism is put in place. For that, we are very happy. I wish to say that, up until a few minutes ago when I checked, there are 74 countries, as I mentioned before, which had signed the treaty and zero had ratified. If we do this tomorrow we could very well be the first country in the world doing this. I think that in all that is happening, at least as a country, we should be proud of that.
I would not answer the other issues raised. I think that they were not related to the Arms Trade Treaty. I would beg, Mr. Speaker, perhaps, you can play a major role here in having the pieces of legislation, which did not receive the support of this House, receive this support the next time it comes here. I am aware of the parliamentary regulations, but hopefully we would be able to overcome those personality issues that the Opposition may have with some of us on this side.
I thank you Mr. Speaker. [Applause]
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