Palestinians demand seat at UN arms talks
Published Tuesday 03/07/2012 (updated) 04/07/2012 15:17
Riyad Mansour, Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations,
speaks to reporters at the UN (Reuters/Shannon Stapleton, File)
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -- UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pleaded Tuesday for a binding pact to regulate the more than $60 billion global weapons market, while delegates at a treaty drafting conference worked to defuse a dispute over Palestinian participation.
"We do not have a multilateral treaty of global scope dealing with conventional arms," Ban told delegates to the conference, which runs through July 27. "This is a disgrace."
"Poorly regulated international arms transfers are fueling civil conflicts, destabilizing regions, and empowering terrorists and criminal networks," he said.
Arms control campaigners say one person every minute dies from armed violence around the world and that a convention is needed to prevent illicitly traded guns from pouring into conflict zones and fueling wars and atrocities. They say conflicts in Syria and elsewhere show a treaty is necessary.
If the campaigners get their way, all signatories would be charged with enforcing compliance with any treaty by arms producers and with taking steps to prevent rogue dealers from operating within their borders. They would have to consider nations' human rights records when deciding whether to export arms.
"Our common goal is clear," Ban said. "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."
"It is ambitious, but I believe it is achievable," he said.
But dispute over whether the Palestinians should participate in the conference as an observer without voting rights - the status they have in the UN General Assembly - or as a state party with voting rights delayed the start of the conference by more than a day a has yet to be resolved, delegates said.
A Palestinian seat at the table?
The Palestinian Authority's permanent observer to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, told reporters Tuesday that since the arms trade treaty negotiations are what he called "an international conference of states," the Palestinians should be a full participant.
Last year the Palestinian Authority successfully obtained membership as a state party to the UN scientific and cultural agency UNESCO, which infuriated the United States and Israel. Because of Palestine's recognition as a state by UNESCO, Mansour said, it should have the same status at the arms treaty talks.
"The Holy See (Vatican) and Palestine feel that it is their right to participate as a state party to this conference," he said. "Unfortunately there are others, few, who feel differently."
The Vatican has the status of a non-member observer state in UN General Assembly, a status the Palestinians have repeatedly suggested they might seek.
Delegates and non-governmental organizations have said that if there was a vote on whether the Palestinians should participate as a state with voting rights at the arms treaty negotiations, the United States, Israel and other participants would walk out of the conference.
"Without the United States, the world's biggest arms supplier, it would be hard to get a meaningful treaty out of this conference," a Latin American diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
If the Palestinians secured voting rights, they would effectively have a veto since decisions at the arms treaty negotiations must be made unanimously.
So far, however, neither the Palestinians nor the UN Arab Group has formally demanded a vote among participants in the month-long negotiation which was supposed to begin on Monday. If there was such a vote, envoys say the Palestinians would likely win, as is usually the case with UN General Assembly votes.
Several Western delegates said they hoped the Palestinians would allow the conference to go ahead without forcing a vote and accepting their current status as an observer without voting rights.
Last year, the Palestinian Authority submitted an application for membership in the United Nations. It has never demanded that the UN Security Council vote on their membership application, since the United States would veto it, envoys say.
Western UN diplomats say that the Palestinian UN membership application is dead, though the Palestinian Authority could still secure membership in UN agencies if it wanted to. Washington has made clear it would have to cancel contributions to any UN agency that admits Palestine as a member.