United Nations Arms Trade Treaty Session attended by COLFO 08-2016


I attended the UN ATT session held in Switzerland, 22-26 August 2016.

I was initially unsure of the value I could add but now having been there is no doubt this is a worthwhile activity. Merely being there is worth a huge amount and puts us in a much more credible position with the battles to come. Having been involved in this level strongly adds to our credibility and should be reinforced in our future dealings with any changes to the Arms Act.

I observe that there is nothing discussed that makes internal registration “best practice” despite what Professor Gillespie says. We can now say hand on heart that there is no international obligation to register. (Not that international law is binding unless ratified internally, as is the case with, say, The Geneva Conventions Act).

The UNATT treaty is designed to regulate the supply of small arms to restrict the ability of states and non-states parties to commit breaches of IHL (war crimes in other words). A signatory must report to the registry its sales and import of arms, and assess if the weapons sold will be used to carry out war crimes.

The ATT in its preamble in several sections recognises the legitimate sale of sporting and historical arms, nor is it designed to interfere with domestic law. Having said that, there is still the possibility that the ATT could, however well meaning, have an effect on the supply of sporting arms and, moreover, ammunition. I see ammunition as really the battleground in the future.

Canada does believe that the treaty will result in registration (again) but I am not sure this is the case in New Zealand, and I think we have arguments should this be used as an “excuse” to register.

The session was broken into several sections, each one of which lasted about a 2/3 of a day. A typical working day was 0900-to 1800, which actual sessions starting at 1000. Normally at 0900 was a session hosted by an organisation on a “hot topic” such as the conflicts in west Africa. Lunch was 1300-1500, again with a session on a hot topic at this time from 1400-1500 such as the book launch for the Commentary on the treaty.

I must (immodestly) say that I think I was the best person for this job. Having a significant background in international law paid dividends (and I will return to one example later) and also, being able to work the room was very useful indeed. Every opportunity I had, I spoke about New Zealand’s Arms Act and not to forget sporting shooters as per suavely as I could. Most delegates were very receptive, although the “radical pacifist feminists” I sat next to were most certainly not receptive. When the representative from the NRA ILA realised I was a Veteran that greatly added to the conversation and relationship to the point where I received a NRA Veteran Coin at the finish.

The rough order with comments follows:

  • Introductory and good will messages from for example the President of Switzerland. This caused issues with our NRA colleagues when the foreign minister of Mexico effectively blamed the US for the countries cartel woes and said that it was easier to buy a gun in the US than breakfast cereals. I suggested to the NRA ILA representative that this indicates Mexico supports building a wall, a headline which I understand they will take up in their next newsletter;
  • The conference then moved to statements from states parties which invariably indicated a support of the treaty. These were limited to 4 minutes. New Zealand made a statement indicating its support of the treaty and its desire to see wider implementation. Sporting and collector’s firearms were not mentioned;
  • Civil society were invited to make statements. I wasn’t aware that this was allowed and had not prepared anything. I did contemplate drafting something and sending it back to you, but we would not have had time to get it approved and I did not want to stray from my lane. Civil society statements revealed a number of agendas, the bulk of which were overwhelmingly anti firearm to put it mildly. I noted who fell in this category and “worked them” as best I could over the next few days. One notable success was the ICRC who I could certainly talk the talk with who understood and accepted our position;
  • The conference then moved onto the trust fund to assist states in implementing the treaty. New Zealand has donated $100,000 to this fund. I can make no further comment;
  • The conference then moved to implementation. Of note New Zealand made a statement that it is introducing legislation to regulate arms broking out of New Zealand. This will be extraterritorial and will be introduced next year. This will regulate the sales of arms out of New Zealand and will require monitoring;
  • The conference then moved to budget discussions. No comment is needed;
  • The conference then moved to its final report. This was interesting. There was much debate, some of which appeared to be pedantic. Importantly, which caused concern with the NRA documents that were supplied to the conference, even if not tabled are to be included in the final record. Afterwards I pointed out to the NRA that this means if they supply 5 TB of information to the conference then it must be included in the record- because, as I said, don’t think for a moment the antis would hesitate to do that.

The conference closed at 1800 on the Friday. Finland was elected president and the next conference will be held in Geneva at roughly the same date in 2017. Strong and worthwhile relationships were formed with the Canadians, the NRA ILA, and SAAMI.

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