Half-baked Arms Trade Treaty negotiations

Guest blog by Kenneth Epps, Senior Program Officer at Project Ploughshares, reporting from the United Nations at the midway point of the International Arms Trade Treaty negotiations. See end of post for further author information.

The four-week United Nations diplomatic conference in New York to negotiate an international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) has reached its half-way mark. It would be fair to ask what has been accomplished to date.

The conference started badly with the first two days lost to procedural wrangling over the ongoing, unresolved political status of Palestine, and the Holy See. The third day disappeared with the US national holiday on July 4. Much time in the following days was absorbed by high level national statements that repeated positions delivered at earlier preparatory conference sessions.The blunt answer is not much. More troubling is the prospect that the final two weeks will be held hostage to states that never wanted a treaty in the first place.

Together these events delayed any real treaty debate until the middle of week two, and significant discussion of treaty text did not commence until Friday the 13th — perhaps not the best day to begin detailed negotiations.

This is not to say that there were not advances, and even inspirational moments, to the first two weeks of proceedings.

In opening remarks to the conference, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon underlined the humanitarian purpose of the treaty and called on states to seize a rare opportunity. “Our common goal is clear” he stated, “a robust and legally binding arms trade treaty that will have a real impact on the lives of those millions of people suffering from the consequences of armed conflict, repression and armed violence.”

In a video message in week two, Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson, Nobel Peace Laureate and President of Liberia, reminded delegates of why her nation’s recent history was testament to the need for a strong treaty.

Equally important, many smaller African, Latin American and Pacific nations became more vocal as the conference progressed to speak in favour of important treaty elements, including a basic demand that small arms and light weapons must be within the treaty’s scope.

Still the next two weeks of ATT negotiations face real challenges.

The opposition by the international gun lobby is a minor, but irritating hurdle, especially the deliberate misrepresentations of the treaty by the US National Rifle Association. The NRA vice president, Wayne La Pierre, spoke in front of delegates but not to them. His NRA-recorded remarks were clearly aimed at frightening (and prying money from) his constituents.

More significantly, the small minority of states that oppose a meaningful Arms Trade Treaty – Algeria, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Syria and a few others – have regularly and negatively intervened, using rules of procedure and semantics to slow negotiations. These “skeptic” states have been better organized than treaty supporting states. The latter will need to up their game if they wish to prevent the skeptics from running the conference into the ground.

To date Canada has been effectively an observer of the proceedings. It submitted a statement to repeat its position announced earlier this year, followed by specific interventions on treaty preamble and criteria that were drawn from the statement. Otherwise, a few technical suggestions have shown that the delegation is awake but far from inspired.

It appears that Canada is waiting for the conference to collapse.

And collapse of the treaty conference has seemed distinctly possible since the 2009 demand by the US that it achieve agreement by consensus. When a determined group of states positions itself to present views diametrically opposed to the majority it is difficult to believe that consensus on a meaningful treaty text can prevail.

There is a growing view among conference participants that the two remaining weeks is insufficient time to square the consensus circle.

This is why it will be crucial for states who support a strong and comprehensive Arms Trade Treaty to generate a meaningful text first, and agreement with skeptical states second. Then, rather than the conference delivering agreement on a weak treaty, the end of July could see a text supported by diverse (but not all) states that is strong enough to address the UN Secretary General’s humanitarian goal. Such a text could then be taken to other UN forums where consensus is not required for final agreement.

That would be the real success of the July negotiations.

Project Ploughshares has been part of the civil society push for a comprehensive arms trade treaty since 1997. Ken Epps has been intimately involved in this process from the start and is one of the Co-Chairs of the international Control Arms Coalition.

This post is also published on the Project Ploughshares website.

Generating prosperity or conflict?: Mining in Latin America

Over the summer we are occasionally re-posting material from MCC colleagues and partner organizations. Here’s one from the MCC Latin America Advocacy Blog.

Latin American Advocacy Blog

By Adrienne Wiebe, MCC Latin America Policy Analyst

Last week five indigenous people died in conflicts related to foreign mining operations in Latin America. One died in a protest in Bolivia related to a Canadian silver mine and four died in Peru in a protest against an American gold mine. Many more people were injured and some were detained by government security forces in these clashes.

Conflicts from Mexico to Argentina

There are currently 160 mining-related conflicts in Latin America, from Mexico to Argentina, according to the Observatorio de Conflictos Mineros de America Latina (Observatory of Mining Conflicts in Latin America).

Canadian companies alone have been and continue to be involved in 85 socio-environmental conflicts in Latin America, according the McGill University Research Group Investigating Canadian Mining in Latin America, which maintains an interactive map documenting these conflicts.

Foreign companies are rarely directly involved in the abuses and the…

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Restorative Justice and the Scandal of the Gospel

By Stephen Siemens, Restorative Justice Coordinator for MCC Canada

Restorative justice has the power to display the scandal of the Gospel. I love the Gospel, and I love to see the word “scandal” close by.

Why? Think of those familiar Bible verses, “God demonstrates his love for us that while we were still sinners [offenders] Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8); while I was an enemy of God, bent on my own self-destruction and the destruction of others “Christ was reconciling the world to himself.” (2 Cor. 5:19).

God is not content to sentence me, to simply remind me of my past record and make me prove my repentance before pouring out love and compassion. Scandalous, isn’t it?

So scandalous that common assumptions about justice–an eye for an eye–are immediately called into question. While “an eye for an eye” is indeed in the Bible, it had a specific purpose of limiting revenge–1400 years before Christ (and as good biblical scholarship has demonstrated the command to limit revenge, when compared to Israel’s neighbours’ moral codes, was actually quite redemptive and ahead of its time).

But in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus takes the calculation of revenge out of the equation altogether, and instead calls for enemy love.

Period.

Yet, even though we know this well, we are still very good at distancing ourselves from “offenders” and “law breakers.” In a stable society like ours, criminals are often the closest thing we have to an “enemy.”

So often we have thought, talked and lived a Gospel looking scandalless.

Perhaps you’re saying to yourself that theologizing has its place but what about public safety? “People want to feel safe.”

Amen. I agree.

The need to feel safe should always be validated.

Unfortunately we are justifying our punitive attitudes and policy to feel safer but in reality the Canada we know is simply choosing revenge over (and at the expense of) public safety.

We are seeing this reality expressed in a number of aspects of what Bill C-10 – the Safe Streets and Communities Act – is bringing to the fore, such as new mandatory minimum sentences and  longer sentences—which inexorably will house more inmates for longer periods of time making prison expansion the logical outcome. As the US has shown, the more we focus on prison expansion the more we lose sight of prevention and other creative community approaches to make our streets safer.

Based on decades of working with both victims and offenders of crime, MCC’s experience has demonstrated time and again just how much safer we are when we become involved in the lives of offenders, and when we support those who have experienced the trauma of being victims of crime.

We are safer – a lot safer – when we put dollars into the community, into prevention, mediation, and victim services rather than into the bricks and mortar of more prisons.

There is a place for prisons.  There needs to be a place to detain individuals who are too dangerous to themselves and others in the general population for a time.

But is that where the church, too, should put her energy?! Is that what the body of Christ should be gravitating towards? Should not we look different than culture around us?

Should not the Gospel break through cultural obsessions with revenge?! What about new beginnings? Is not God reconciling the world to himself in Christ?  Have we not been commissioned as ambassadors of this message?!

For over a thousand years Christians did not live with a “state law” as we do now (ironically it was only after the church produced her “Canon Law” in the 12th Century that secular legal systems and state law took shape and form?!). Christians took the call to be Christ’s ambassadors by showing radical hospitality and love to anyone, with no “easy way out” to exempt and insulate themselves from certain groups of people who “broke the law” and “had a record.”

The Gospel was drenched in scandal.

Sadly, though, living on this side of a state law can often trump radical love, quarantining the scandal of the Gospel.

MCC hopes to encourage and remind the Church of her justice background. A justice that is “set apart,” completely “other” from the world’s take on justice. Justice that looks a lot more like enemy love rather than a calculated eye for an eye.

From coast to coast MCC is involved in—and has been catalytic in establishing—creative community approaches to crime. For example MCC facilitates Circles of Support and Accountability, where four to five folks from our communities and churches voluntarily walk with released federal offenders that are deemed “high risk to reoffend” upon release.

They do this so that there are no more victims! And that there is a possibility for redemption.

There is power in transformed lives—victims, offenders, Christians!

Power even greater than empirically proven safer streets.

Every time Christians choose to gravitate towards offenders, crossing the chasm between “themselves” and “the offender,” “us” verses “them,” or “me” verses the “enemy” they are mirroring God’s reconciliatory nature and power!

They are ambassadors of a Gospel fully loaded with scandal!