The Holy See
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New York
11-15 July 2011


In 2006, the General Assembly of the United Nations requested countries to submit their views on the drafting of a Treaty on arms trade. More than 100 countries presented their views which were collected in a 2007 report by the Secretary-General on the issue. Successively, in 2008 a Group of Governmental Experts produced a second report on the topic.

At the end of 2009 the General Assembly decided to convene a Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty in 2012 “to elaborate a legally binding instrument on the highest possible common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms”. The General Assembly also indicated that four sessions of the Open-ended Working Group will be held as Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) sessions in preparation for the Conference. The first PrepCom took place in July 2010. In 2011, two other PrepComs were held: 28 February to 4 March and 11-15 July. A fourth PrepCom is scheduled for 13-17 February 2012, before the expected adoption of the Treaty by the Conference.

In many parts of the world, the illicit trade of weapons and ammunition has led to human suffering, internal conflicts, civil unrest, human rights violations, humanitarian crises, crime, violence and terror. In fact, the international community is confronted with irresponsible arms deals in several places around the globe. Although an eclectic set of national and regional control measures on arms transfers exists, the global trade in conventional weapons — from warships and battle tanks to fighter jets and machine guns — remains unregulated in the absence of a set of internationally-agreed standards. Therefore, the Holy See has participated in the negotiations on the Treaty from the very beginning.

The Holy See recognizes the great importance of the current ATT process as it addresses in particular the grave human cost resulting from the illicit trade in arms. Non-regulated and non-transparent arms trading and the absence of effective monitoring systems for arms trading at the international level cause serious humanitarian consequences, slow down integral human development, undermine the rule of law, increase conflicts and instability around the globe, endanger peace-building processes in various countries and spawn a culture of violence and impunity. Here we should always bear in mind the grave repercussions of illicit trade in arms on peace, development, human rights and the humanitarian situation, especially the deep impact it leaves on women and children. These issues can be effectively solved only through the common sharing of responsibilities by all members of the international community.

Conventional arms and weapons, small or light, should not be regarded as any other kind of merchandise that is put on sale in global, regional or national markets. Their production, trade and possession have ethical and social implications. They need to be regulated in accordance with specific principles of the moral and legal order. Every effort is required to prevent the proliferation of all types of weapons which encourage local wars and urban violence and kill too many people in the world every day. Hence, the urgency for the adoption of a legal instrument, which the Holy See fully supports, with legally binding measures on trade control for conventional weapons and munitions on the global, regional and national levels.

The international community needs a strong, credible, effective and concrete legal instrument so as to improve transparency in arms trade, promote the adoption of common criteria for arms trade control and establish a binding legal framework for regulating the trade of conventional weapons and munitions as well as the trading and licensing of technologies for their production.

The outcome of the current ATT process will put to test the political will and the credible willingness of States to assume their moral and legal responsibility in order to strengthen further the international regime on the existing unregulated arms trade. Focusing on the magnitude of those affected and those suffering from the scourge of the illicit spread of arms and munitions should challenge the international community to achieve an effective and enforceable Arms Trade Treaty. Exporting and importing States should put in force obligatory, transparent, verifiable and universal regulatory norms and mechanisms to curb the illegal arms trade by applying effective record-keeping and reporting systems through efficient international assistance and cooperation and improved trust-based relationships among States. Exporting and importing States have also an important role to play by precluding any potential for corruption and by monitoring compliance with international trade rules by arms industries and arms brokers.

To achieve a strong, effective and comprehensive ATT, the international community should not neglect the importance of victim assistance and compensation. The main objective of an ATT must be to safeguard human life and to build a world more respectful of human dignity, not just to regulate the illicit trade in arms. An ATT must also challenge the approach of “business as usual” which has provided for continuing violations of civilian immunity in conflict situations. Acting responsibly means promoting a real culture of peace and life. In this vein, it is also important to promote education in peace and public awareness programmes involving all sectors of our society, including religious organizations.

The Holy See is convinced that an Arms Trade Treaty can make an important contribution to the promotion of a true global culture of peace through responsible cooperation of States, in partnership and solidarity with the arms industry and in solidarity with civil society. In this perspective, the current efforts to adopt an Arms Trade Treaty could indeed become an auspicious sign of a much needed political will of nations and governments to ensure greater peace, justice, stability and prosperity in the world.

As Pope Benedict XVI stated: “The time has come to change the course of history, to recover trust, to cultivate dialogue, to nourish solidarity. These are the noble objectives that inspired the founders of the United Nations Organization, a real experience of friendship among peoples. Humanity’s future depends on everyone’s commitment. Only by following an integral and supportive humanism in whose context the question of disarmament takes on an ethical and spiritual nature, will humanity be able to walk towards the desired authentic and lasting peace (International seminar on “Disarmament, Development and Peace, Prospects for Integral Disarmament”, 10 April 2008).