x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Arab leaders urged to rethink UN arms treaty

Amnesty International has urged Arab governments to rethink their position on regulating global arms deals.

NEW YORK // Amnesty International has urged Arab governments to rethink their position on regulating global arms deals after officials did not support a draft United Nations resolution designed to clamp down on the weapons trade. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the UAE, Syria, Iraq and Egypt were among 18 countries to abstain from a vote in the UN's disarmament committee over drafting a legally binding arms trade treaty that would tighten rules around the import and export of conventional weapons. But the draft resolution was overwhelmingly adopted on Friday with 147 countries voting for and only two countries - the United States and Zimbabwe - voting against. The adopted resolution urges UN members to consider how to implement "the highest possible standards to prevent the diversion of conventional arms from the legal to the illicit market, where they can be used for terrorist acts, organised crime and other criminal activities". Advocates of a global arms trade treaty (ATT) say it would help prevent ruthless regimes from buying weapons and using them to commit human rights violations against their own or neighbouring populations. Brian Wood, a spokesman for Amnesty International, urged Arab leaders to vote in favour of the resolution when it appears again before the General Assembly next month. The ATT advocate said Arab officials had likely abstained from the vote over concerns that a global arms treaty would be used to prevent the region's governments from supplying their own armies. "There are a lot of fears that a treaty would be used to prejudice imports for self defence or law enforcement using criteria such as international human rights law," Mr Wood said. "They are worried about that." The Amnesty spokesman said a treaty would only prohibit arms deals to regimes perpetrating "a pervasive pattern of gross violations" against their people and would not be used against such peaceful countries as the UAE. Mr Wood said countries such as the UAE had plenty to gain from the treaty, having already fallen victim to international criminal gangs orchestrating crooked arms deals from both Dubai and Sharjah. "If you're not diligent enough and arms traffickers start using your territory, before you know it you can have a situation of international organised criminals moving in - and this has actually happened in the UAE, where you have had crime syndicates that traffic weaponry in return for natural resources, as documented in UN reports," Mr Wood said. An ATT would likely work to curb such trafficking and, if adopted and implemented in the region, would "considerably reduce the threat" posed by such criminals, he said. Despite repeated attempts to contact the UAE's mission to the UN to ask why the Government decided to abstain from the vote, diplomats were unable to comment. Friday's vote does not bring an ATT into immediate effect but rather establishes an open-ended working group that will meet in New York in March and July to discuss treaty proposals. jreinl@thenational.ae