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The Pacific’s loud voice at the UN Arms Trade Treaty negotiations

Whilst the Pacific has escaped the ‘AK-47’ plague that has caused suffering and disaster in other parts of the world, the region has certainly not been free from the scourge of gun violence and conflict.

In recent years, small arms have fuelled armed conflict in countries such as Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Fiji. Bougainville, once the most prosperous province of PNG, after a decade of armed violence became one of the poorest. Even in nations at peace, the Pacific experience shows how only a small number of guns can have a very large impact, particularly in crime, clan rivalry and domestic violence.

Corruption, poor record keeping, stolen and diverted weapons and homemade guns are all a reality in the Pacific region. Recognising this problem, in 2009 Oxfam helped to form the Pacific Small Arms Action Group (PSAAG), a coalition of individuals and organisations dedicated to action to help reduce the deadly impact of small arms in our region.

This year PSAAG was given one of its first big opportunities on the international stage when five PSAAG members were nominated to attend the First Session of the Preparatory Committee for the UN Conference of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). PSAAG members were able to take our message for the ATT negotiations directly to the missions of various Pacific Missions to the UN, an activity that proved critical as few Pacific states had the time or resources to attend the meetings personally. Many of the Pacific missions are staffed by only a few people, and consistently have competing demands on their time. PSAAG therefore updated missions on the negotiations and made the case for improving Pacific participation in future meetings on the ATT in 2011.

PSAAG was also fortunate to have one of its members selected to deliver a keynote presentation on the Arms Trade Treaty, to representatives of all UN member states and observers. Ema Tagicakibau from the Pacific Foundation for the Advancement of Women spoke with great conviction and highlighted the urgent need for an ATT that addresses the human costs of the international arms trade.

Here’s a copy of Ema’s speech:

Presentation by Ms. Ema Tagicakibau, Pacific Foundation for the Advancement of Women (PACFAW) to the First Preparatory Committee for the UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty

Delivered July 16 2010

Mr Chair, Distinguished delegates:

It is both an honor and a privilege to share and to be heard especially coming from a small island state like Fiji in the Pacific where it is to be expected that climate change is far more critical issue. But tackling arms trade issue shows our interconnectedness. Even the Pacific is not immune to the human impact of the unregulated arms trade with our porous borders and weak laws.

Mr. Chair, We cannot emphasize enough the need for an Arms trade treaty that must be firmly grounded on the objective of saving human lives and reducing the human cost of irresponsible arms trade. Much time and energy has been spent this week discussing the various elements of the proposed Arms Trade Treaty. Many good recommendations have been put forward on what should be included and what more states need to focus attention on. The Chair’s Draft Non Paper on Principles attempts to capture the tone of the current debate, and does indeed cover a number of important elements.

However, we believe that there are some fundamentally important elements that remain missing from the list of stated principles. Unless these are addressed comprehensively at this early stage, there is a danger that the rationale behind what should inform the debate on the ATT could be missed out altogether, and we may end up with a “dry-bone” document that fails to reflect the “flesh and blood” issues at the core of the human cost of the arms trade.

For an ATT to be fully effective, the following additional principles, which is not exhaustive, must be incorporated into the parameters of an ATT. I will only elaborate on a few key elements:

Gender-based armed violence
Evidence of direct linkage between sexual violence in situations of armed conflict and the arms trade point to the need to uphold gender equality and the prohibition of violence against women among the guiding principles of an effective ATT. In many parts of the world the easy availability of conventional weapons, particularly small arms, facilitates patterns of gender based violence,
including sexual violence as a tool of war and the violation of women’s human rights.

Conflict environments, characterized by a breakdown in the rule of law and a prevailing climate of impunity, create the conditions whereby a State or non-state parties, emboldened by their weapons, power and status, essentially enjoy free reign to inflict sexual violence. This has far-reaching implications for efforts to consolidate peace and secure development.

The proposed Arms Trade Treaty principles must therefore take into account, and build on,
the mandates contained within UN Security Council Resolutions 1325 on women, peace and security, Resolutions 1820, 1888, 1889, 1890 and the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women which provide a series of measures that protect women in armed conflict and mandate the full and equal participation of women and girls in peace and security initiatives, including arms trade policies and monitoring, and to take into account the particular needs of women and girls associated with arms control and armed conflicts.

Victims assistance
We are often asked by our communities, “How will an ATT help those who have been injured or harmed with conventional arms? How will it help our communities who have suffered from the devastating impacts of the irresponsible trade in arms?” In order for an ATT to make a concrete difference in the lives of people, an ATT must include provisions that enable states to respond to the rights of victims. Adding such provisions would contribute greatly towards achieving what should be a central goal of the ATT – regulating the arms trade and diminishing the human cost of the poorly regulated arms trade.

In that regard we have been encouraged by the statements of some states that have affirmed the need for an ATT should address the rights of victims, including their rights to adequate care and rehabilitation, as well as their social and economic inclusion.

Corruption and crime
Research indicates that the arms trade is among the top three most corrupt industries. Corruption can encourage high levels of spending on arms transfers or inappropriate purchases, and lock countries into deals which do not directly address pressing human security needs. Corruption inflates the cost and reduces the quality of the weapons which nations acquire to defend themselves. Corruption also undermines the ability of states to control the diversion of weapons from their intended end-users within the country or abroad.

In their submissions to the Open-ended Working Group, many states explicitly recognised the need for a strong anti-corruption mechanism in a robust ATT.

Armed Violence and Development
Armed violence has a major impact on development – research has shown that Africa loses $18 billion per year as a result of conflict and armed violence – enough to comprehensively address resource shortfalls in a number of essential social service sectors like water and sanitation, or education. The impact of armed violence is felt disproportionately by women and children, it is estimated that nearly 70% of civilian victims are women and children.

The ATT must recognize that transfers which risk exacerbating or prolonging conflict, by enabling the weapons to facilitate the perpetration of serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, directly undermine the ability of communities to meet their basic needs or to get out of poverty. What constitutes “serious” violations is arbitrary and depends also on the context in which these occur.

Development and military expenditure
It remains a human mystery that we live in a highly disordered world, where the military budget can be in the billions yet international contribution to humanitarian aid, or to addressing poverty may only be in the millions; where a developing country may have more soldiers compared to doctors or teachers; where the cost of a gun may be more than the cost of putting a child through school in one year; thus diverting much needed scarce resources away from essential social services such as health, education and sustainable livelihoods.

As a coalition of CSO that are determined to see a principled and robust ATT, the Control Arms Coalition will continue to remind governments of what an Arms Trade Treaty should do for those they represent – the suffering human faces that must remain central in the debate towards an Arms Trade Treaty: whether it is that of our children with high hopes for a better tomorrow; those brutalized, maimed or killed in needless deaths; women widowed, raped or forcefully displaced, destabilized communities and stalled development as impact of unregulated arms trade that fuels armed conflicts all over the world that even our tiny Pacific island states are not immune to.

We urge governments to ensure that transparency, accountability, and an inclusive approach to dealing with the problem of unregulated arms transfers – and in ensuring an open door policy to CSOs in the room so that “we the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” can continue to remain a reality in this 21st century.

Thank you Mr Chairman.