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Small Minority Gains Big Voice in Arms Trade Negotiations

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 10 2012 (IPS) - The slow progress of the first week of arms trade treaty negotiations has sparked concerns among strong treaty advocates who sense the delaying tactics of a sceptical minority.

The first week of negotiations on an Arms Trade Treaty proposed to oversee the global arms trade has had “somewhat of a slow start” said Anna Macdonald, Head of Arms Control Oxfam at a U.N. control arms briefing Tuesday.

Progress has been obstructed by lengthy wrangling over procedural matters, from the duration of meetings to specific themes for each session. This has allowed a reluctant minority to dominate talks according to Macdonald.

“Some states have been quite vociferous in their arguments against meetings moving on”, she said, identifying countries seen to be employing delaying tactics as Egypt, Syria, Iran, Algeria, the Democratic Republic of Korea, Venezuela and Cuba.

150 states have vouched support for strong monitoring and regulation of arms exports, and strong statements from Kenya, Nigeria, the UK, France and Germany support a criterion for preventing exports to human rights violators.

“All those governments who are speaking of the highest possible standards need to show real leadership” said Frank Johannson head of Amnesty International’s Finnish branch, voicing the need for governments to speak up and remove scepticism from the centre stage.

“The treaty will not be a panacea” said Macdonald but will enforce a global standard, increasing oversight and closing gaps that arms brokers have been able to exploit by lawfully hopping from country to country to ship arms to areas where crimes against humanity are being committed.

Illustrating the effects of unregulated trade on Africa, Marren Akatsa-Bukachi a spokesperson for the Women’s Network underlined the significance of conventional arms for the use of rape as a weapon of war in the Congo, “a man with a machete can rape a woman” she said, “a man with a gun can rape a village”.

“The world is watching,” said Macdonald, referring to the media coverage and campaigners across the globe following negotiations, and subsequent pressure for responsible action.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon exerted further pressure in his opening speech denouncing the feebly regulated arms trade as a disgrace stating the need for “a robust criteria that would help lessen the risk that transferred weapons are used to commit violations of international humanitarian law”.

But a shared sense of optimism among the Control Arms Coalition comes with the cautious concern for the recent decision to close 50 per cent of negotiations to civil society, “We are concerned that the shady secretive world of the arms trade is becoming the shady secretive world of negotiations” said Macdonald.

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