Meeting of NGOs and members of the APPG on Weapons and Protection of Civilians with the UK Minister for Counter Proliferation

On Wednesday 8 February 2012, a joint delegation of MPs from the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Weapons and Protection of Civilians, together with NGOs, met with the Minister for Counter Proliferation, Alistair Burt MP and senior officials from the Foreign Office. The meeting took place ahead of the final Preparatory Committee meeting on the Arms Trade Treaty, scheduled to take place from 13-17 February at the United Nations in New York. It was the first external meeting for the All Party Group on Weapons and Protection of Civilians, which had its inaugural meeting on 6 December 2011.

The cross-party delegation was led by Labour MP Martin Caton, Chair of the APPG, joined by Green MP Caroline Lucas, Vice-Chair of the APPG, and Martin Horwood MP, from the government benches. Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, Ed Cairns, Senior Policy Adviser at Oxfam, Thomas Nash, Director of Article 36 and Rob Parker, Director of Policy and Communications of Saferworld made up the NGO contingent.

The Minister was accompanied by UK Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, Jo Adamson, who has recently been appointed Head of Delegation for the PrepCom. Also in attendance were Peter Hayes, former Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Personal Private Secretary to Foreign Secretaries Jack Straw, Margaret Beckett and David Miliband, and Caroline Smith, head of the ATT team in the Counter Proliferation Department.

The joint delegation set out a range of issues that it feels the government should address as a priority, including the importance of adequate resourcing by the UK government for this issue over the crucial negotiating period ahead; the need for the treaty to cover all forms of transfers and to include ammunition and small arms in its scope; and the need for policing and security equipment, such as tear gas, to be covered by the treaty given that this equipment has been responsible for human rights abuses in a number of countries.

A key recommendation of the delegation was for the UK to state publicly that it will not accept a deal that fails to place legally binding prohibitions on arms transfers where there is a substantial risk that they will be used in serious violations of international human rights or humanitarian law or where they may undermine development.

Article 36 believes that the UK government must urgently set out a steadfast commitment to these fundamental negotiating positions as they reflect the entire purpose of having an ATT, i.e. to stop arms transfers to unscrupulous regimes that kill civilians and subject their own citizens to brutal repression.

The delegation also stressed the importance of strengthening the partnership between civil society, parliamentarians and the government in the next six months as we move towards the final negotiations on the treaty in July. Several options for collaboration were raised, including parliamentary activity and media work and the Minister was invited to speak to a joint meeting of the APPG on Weapons and Protection of Civilians and the APPG on the United Nations, chaired by Lord Hannay, after the PrepCom.

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