Tuesday, July 20, 2010

At UN, As Arms Trade Treaty Is Taken Behind Closed Doors, NGOs Protest the Private Club of Member States

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 18 -- Who's against an Arms Trade Treaty? Morocco, for example, is for it: it is against the transfer of weapons to the Polisario Front in Western Sahara. Algeria, it is said, is against the ATT. It is not always easy to know.
Last week the non governmental organizations following the negotiations were thrown out of the meetings by the Chairman of the First Preparatory Committee for the UN Conference on the ATT, Ambassador Roberto Garcia Moritan of Argentina.

Inner City Press, which had asked Moritan questions about the ATT as it began on July 12, asked UN Associate Spokesperson Farhan Haq about the expulsion of the NGOs. Haq answered after the briefing:

"We are not aware of any exclusions from the Arms Trade Treaty meetings in New York. On its first day, the Preparatory Committee agreed on the modalities for participation in the ATT and agreed that NGOs could attend open sessions. NGOs were admitted immediately after the decision was taken on Monday."

After checking with NGO representatives, who protested that what Haq said wasn't true, Inner City Press asked again. This time, the answer came from Ewen Buchanan of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs:

Dear Matthew, The modalities for the participation of NGOs in the ATT process were agreed on Monday. As you will see from this (which although called draft) was adopted on Monday, it states that 'may attend open meetings.' In accordance with their rules, the Member States declared the afternoon session today (and a number of others in the future) to be closed and NGOs and others were (and will be) accordingly asked to leave.”

This of course is a tautology. The moment NGOs are thrown out, it is no longer an “open” meeting. The NGOs say that without notice, and by his own decision, Moritan threw them out on July 15 from what they say are the most substantive sessions. When they asked why, he canceled a meeting with them, calling them “unhelpful.”

This stands in contrast to public face that Moritan showed the Press at his July 9 press conference. His answer were sometime inane, but always delivered with a smile. Inner City Press asked if the ATT might only benefit governments, including those seeking to cut off weapons flows to rebel or insurgent groups. Video here.

That will be discussed by member states, Moritan answered. But that's just the point.

Moritan, front and center, NGOs not shown

If the ATT is just another way to monopolize force in the hands of states, might it not have less than progressive impacts in such places as Karamoja in Uganda, where the Museveni government has used UN and UNDP funds for the forcible disarmament of the pastoralists who oppose him?

Moritan claimed that “of course” the ATT would prohibit arms transfers to, for example, Rwanda during the genocide. But would it? Who would decide? Inner City Press asked Morigan, what about Sudan? Video here.

These are the questions on which some of the NGOs wish to be heard. But now they've been excluded, and say the UN and Moritan have lied about it. If the means are the ends, these problems are getting worse. We aim to have more on this -- watch this site.

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