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UK Ministers "fully committed to taking work on Arms Trade Treaty forward urgently"

In an open letter on the Arms Trade Treaty, UK Ministers Alistair Burt and Alan Duncan wrote to Oxfam, Amnesty International, Article 36, Saferworld, Transparency International and Action on Armed Violence.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

They wrote:

“As the dust settles after four tough weeks of negotiations in New York on an Arms Trade Treaty, we thought we should write to you with our reactions to what happened and thoughts on where we go from here. Firstly, we would like to thank you for your commitment to securing a robust ATT and for the close working relationship we have established, which was very evident in New York.

“As the Government has made clear, we are disappointed that the negotiations did not reach a conclusion. This was not the result we wanted or which we worked to achieve. Like the overwhelming majority of states, we supported the Conference President’s draft Treaty text and we were ready to agree to it last week. It is unfortunate that a small number of states pushed for more time to consider the proposals. This was disappointing but we recognise that to be fully effective, the Treaty will need broad - ideally universal - participation. Our judgement is that the text provides enough to work with. Whilst it reflects the compromises necessary to bridge the wide variety of national positions, it is robust and if still adopted, would bring about a very significant improvement on the current situation by establishing, in particular:

  • A global first in setting universal commitments on national arms export controls. A global baseline for regulating arms exports;
  • The first ever international legally binding agreement on the transfer of small arms and light weapons;
  • A mandatory requirement for arms exports - including ammunition and military parts and components - to be assessed on the basis of certain criteria including human rights, and a mandatory refusal if they pose unacceptable risks;Inclusion of sustainable development and anti-corruption into arms export controls;
  • A requirement for countries to regulate brokering;
  • Mandatory reporting on authorisations or actual transfers of conventional arms.

“We exerted every effort to secure a strong agreement. Ministers and officials in London, New York and across our network of Embassies and High Commissions worked tirelessly around the clock over the last month, and in the period leading up to it, to give these negotiations the best chance of success. We both travelled to New York and, along with other Ministers including the Deputy Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the International Development Secretary, lobbied key states by phone and in person.

“As well as participating constructively in the Plenary, Main Committees and informal consultations, our delegation was highly active behind the scenes, working to find ways forward and to promote agreement. As we made clear going into these negotiations, while we recognised the need for flexibility and compromise, we would not accept or sign a weak Treaty. We held strictly to these principles throughout.

“We were delighted with the close collaboration between NGOs and our delegation and valued the regular dialogue we had with such organisations both before and during negotiations. We sincerely hope this can continue over the coming months.

“So, where do we go from here? We remain fully committed to taking this work forward urgently to secure the strongest and widest possible agreement as soon as this is feasible. A period of reflection and consultation with key governments and stakeholders, including yourselves, is the first step.

“The UN General Assembly in the autumn, to which the Conference President is sending his report, will be the next opportunity to address the issue amongst the whole UN membership. Our priority will be to bank the progress we’ve made and sustain momentum to agree a Treaty. We remain optimistic, and it is worth noting that those countries who asked for more time nevertheless spoke in positive terms about the text on the table. Civil society will continue to have a key role to play in influencing the sceptics and ensuring that the progress achieved last month is not diluted. In this we hope to work ever more closely with you, and we look forward to meeting you at the earliest opportunity.

“We firmly believe that an ATT is coming and we will keep working until it is agreed. The human cost of the uncontrolled arms trade is too high not to.”

Published 3 August 2012