Statement by Minister NC Dlamini Zuma to the Argentine Public Policy Association Conference on the Control of International Arms Transfers.

Mr.Chairperson,
Amb Sergio Duarte, Mr.Chairperson,
Dr Adalberto Rodriguez Giavarini, President of CARI
Diego M Freitas, Director of the Public Policy Association
Amb Elsa Kelly, from the Argentine Foreign Ministry
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very honoured to be here today and to address this august Association on a topic that is very important to both the African and South American continents. 

We are all acutely aware that on our two continents, the spread of illicit small arms and light weapons have caused havoc by feeding conflicts and facilitating their escalation, leading to the killing, maiming or displacing of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. 

I think all would agree that the primary responsibility for controlling the flow of arms rests with the governments that allow arms to be exported, imported, and re-exported or to transit through territories under their jurisdiction or control. 

Mr. Chairperson,

When the first democratic South African Government came to power in 1994, we faced considerable challenges.  Among these was the fact there was an existing arms industry in South Africa that had been utilised by the apartheid government to equip their defence force and to enable them to destabilise countries in the region and to oppress the people of South Africa.  As a Government, we had to decide whether we should close this industry down, or whether in the interest of maintaining certain technological know-how in the country and in order to grow the economy, we should allow this industry to continue to exist.  We decided to maintain the industry, but to regulate it very strictly, so that we could ensure that South African conventional weapons would not be exported to destinations and in ways that would counteract our domestic and foreign policies. 

The manufacturing, possession, import, export, transit and transhipment of conventional weapons are regulated in South Africa by the National Convention Arms Control Act (NACC).  This Act aims inter alia:

  • to ensure compliance with the policy of the Government in respect of arms control;
  • to ensure the implementation of a legitimate, effective and transparent control process;
  • to foster national and international confidence in the control procedures;
  • to provide for guidelines and criteria to be used when assessing applications for permits made in terms of this Act;
  • to ensure adherence to international treaties and agreements; and
  • to ensure proper accountability in the trade in conventional arms.

The NCAC Act, as it is referred to, also makes provision for the establishment of a Ministerial Committee, called the National Conventional Arms Control Committee, or NCACC.  This Committee of Ministers is appointed by the President and is tasked with considering each application by the South African industry to export conventional weapons on a case-by-case basis.  The Act stipulates that the Chairperson and Deputy-Chairperson of the NCACC have to be Ministers that have no line-function interest in the trade in conventional arms.  The NCAC Act is currently being revised based on our experiences in implementing it since 2002.

Mr. Chairperson,

As I alluded to earlier, Africa is one of the regions of the world that has particularly been affected by the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.  It should therefore come as no surprise that considerable work has been done on the African continent to address the matter of the flow of illicit small arms and light weapons, including by addressing the issue of international arms transfers. 

In December 2000 the then OAU adopted the Bamako Declaration on an African Common Position on the Illicit Proliferation, Circulation and Trafficking of small arms and light weapons.   In the declaration African States indicated:

“We express our grave concern that the problem of the illicit proliferation, circulation and trafficking of small arms and light weapons continues to have devastating consequences for stability and development in Africa”.

The declaration furthermore states that, in order to promote peace, security, stability and sustainable development on the African continent, it is vital to address the problem of the illicit proliferation, circulation and trafficking of small arms and light weapons in a comprehensive, integrated, sustainable and efficient manner by ensuring that the behaviour and conduct of African States and suppliers are not only transparent but also go beyond narrow national interests.  It is stated that this aim should furthermore be addressed by the promotion of comprehensive solutions to the problem of the illicit proliferation, circulation and trafficking of small arms and light weapons that are based on the co-ordination and harmonisation of the efforts of African States at the regional, continental and international levels.  This includes the institutionalisation of national and regional programmes that will entrench respect for international humanitarian law. 

 In the Bamako Declaration African States also strongly appealed to the wider international community and, particularly, to countries that are suppliers of arms, to seriously consider ways to discourage and eliminate the practice of dumping excess weapons in African countries and in violation of arms embargoes; and to enact appropriate legislation and regulations to control arms transfers by manufacturers, suppliers, traders, brokers, shipping and transit agents.

In January 2006, the Executive Council of the African Union endorsed the African Common Position on the review of the United Nations Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects.  The Council also requested “the Commission (of the AU) to take the necessary steps towards the establishment of a legally binding instrument to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and weapons in Africa”.

Mr. Chairperson,

Considerable work has also been done in Southern Africa in this regard.  The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on the Control of Firearms, Ammunition and other Related Materials, entered into force during 2005, and commits Member States to inter alia  enact the necessary legislation to establish as criminal offences the illicit manufacturing of firearms, ammunition and other related materials, and their excessive and destabilising accumulation, trafficking, possession and use.  The Protocol also requires SADC States to enact the necessary legislation to sanction criminally, civilly or administratively the violation of United Nations Security Council arms embargoes. SADC States are also required to co-ordinate procedures for the import, export and transit of firearm shipments and to promote legal uniformity and minimum standards in respect of the manufacture, control, possession, import, export and transfer of firearms, ammunition and other related materials.

Mr. Chairperson,

As we are all aware, the 61st session of the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution entitled “Towards an Arms Trade Treaty: establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms”. The resolution called for the creation of a Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) to consider the feasibility, scope and draft parameters of an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).  The resolution furthermore called on UN Member States to provide their views on the feasibility, scope and draft parameters of an ATT to the Secretary-General of the UN. 

South Africa, together with more than 90 other Member States provided its views on an ATT to the UN.  In its views, South Africa inter alia indicated:

“While States have an indisputable right to acquire conventional weapons for self-defence and law enforcement purposes, they also have a responsibility to do everything in their power to ensure that arms transferred by them are not used to violate human rights, to undermine development, or to commit acts of terrorism.  It is for this reason that South Africa supports the efforts undertaken within the context of the United Nations to establish common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms”.
The GGE, which was very ably chaired by Ambassador Roberto Garcia Moritan from Argentina, met during 2008.  South Africa was one of the 28 Member States represented on the GGE.  In its consensus report, the GGE indicated that the United Nations must “hold further consideration of efforts to address the international trade” in conventional weapons.

The new resolution adopted by the First Committee of the General Assembly this year, provides for the creation of an open-ended working group within the UN to further discuss the possibility of an ATT.

Mr. Chairperson,

South Africa intends to actively participate in the work of the open-ended working group, as it remains a strong supporter of all disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control measures.  South Africa will continue to ensure the implementation of a legitimate, effective and transparent national arms control process while seeking to contribute to regional and international security and stability, by promoting transparency and greater responsibility in the transfers of conventional arms.  In this regard, South Africa is committed to the process aimed at working towards an ATT, as it sees the ATT process as an opportunity to involve more countries internationally in the same type of arms controls as South Africa  and other countries implement nationally.

As supporters of the concept of an ATT, countries like Argentina and South Africa will have to endeavour to convince those that are currently opposed to, or sceptical about an ATT to participate fully in this process.  For an ATT to be a successful international, legally binding treaty, it will need the participation and commitment of all major arms producing countries.  We know that several of the large arms producers currently are not in favour of an ATT.  This is a serious impediment which we will have to address.

We know, for instance that some of the major arms producers are of the view that the standard set by an ATT will inevitably be the lowest common denominator and will therefore set the proverbial bar very low.  We should engage these States and indicate to them that nothing will stop States from implementing higher standards nationally than what will be prescribed by an ATT.  On the other hand an ATT will be aimed at getting countries that are currently implementing none, or very weak arms controls to implement the standards that the Treaty will require, thereby improving the international arms control conditions.    

It is also known that some States are apprehensive that an ATT could prevent them from obtaining the weapons they need for their legitimate self defence needs.  We should engage them and indicate to them that it will be up to all of us as negotiators in the open-ended working group to ensure that rights such as that to self defence are enshrined in the treaty.

Mr. Chairperson,

It is South Africa’s view that Negotiators should aim to include Criteria in the ATT, to provide guidance to State Parties when making conventional arms transfers decisions.  Such criteria should include:

  • Whether the transfer would contribute to internal repression, including the systematic violation or suppression of human rights and fundamental freedoms;
  • Whether the transfers would be likely to contribute to the escalation of regional military conflicts, endanger peace by introducing destabilising military capabilities into a region or otherwise contribute to regional instability;
  • Whether the transfer would be in accordance with international law, norms and practices and the international obligations and commitments of the sending State, including United Nations Security Council arms embargoes;
  • Whether the transfer would have an impact on sustainable development;
  • Whether the transfer would contribute to terrorism and crime;
  • Whether the transferred material is likely to be used for purposes other than the legitimate defence and security needs of the government of the country of import.

Whilst important, the criteria should not be too detailed and elaborate as it is rather the principles that matter.  The most important aspect relating to the implementation of any final instrument will be the strict adherence to the criteria and comprehensive, accurate and regular reporting as prescribed by the instrument.

In order to build confidence, the Treaty would have to include transparency measures and States Parties would have to be required to report regularly on their international arms transfers.  The existing United Nations Register on Conventional Arms could possibly serve as a model for such a reporting mechanism. 

The Treaty would also have to contain a compliance mechanism.  It is recommended that the compliance mechanisms in other international instruments be considered and evaluated as potential models to be used for the ATT.  Examples in this regard are the Secretary General’s Mechanism for the investigation of the alleged use of Chemical and Biological Weapons, which is an ad hoc instrument that can be invoked when necessary and the compliance mechanism of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty, which as a permanent, but very small and streamlined structure.

South Africa is furthermore of the view that an ATT should provide for an Implementation Support Unit that would assist States Parties with their implementation of the requirements of the Treaty.  This would especially be important to provide States lacking in capacity to implement the requirements of the Treaty with the necessary assistance.  An Implementation Support Unit could also assist States Parties with the drawing up of national legislation and the establishment of export control systems.  The Implementation Support Unit could also be the mechanism to facilitate international co-operation and assistance in this regard.

Mr. Chairperson,

In its participation in the open-ended working group, South Africa will also aim to ensure that the ATT that will hopefully emerge from the discussions will not in any way impact negatively on the interests of African and other developing countries,  and that it will in no way hamper access by developing States to advances technologies for peaceful purposes.

I trust that Argentina, South Africa and our international partners will be able to co-operate successfully in this process, so that the end result might be a strong treaty that will make a difference to way in which the international arms trade functions so that in the end, the conditions of innocent civilians can be improved.

I thank you.

Issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs

Private Bag X152

Pretoria, 0002

03 December 2008.  

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2003 Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of South Africa