House approves motion to ratify UN arms treaty

The National Assembly yesterday passed a motion approving Guyana’s ratification of the UN Arms Trade Treaty with the opposition urging government to take the necessary steps to ensure the treaty becomes effective.

The motion was brought to the House by Minister of Foreign Affairs Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett. The Arms Trade Treaty seeks to establish the highest possible common international standards for regulating or improving the regulation of international trade in conventional arms and to prevent and eradicate illicit trade and its diversion.

The motion states that the adoption of the Treaty is considered to be of great significance in that it will aid in achieving the purpose of contributing to international and regional peace, security and stability; reducing human suffering and promoting cooperation, transparency and responsible action by State Parties in the international trade in conventional arms, thereby building confidence among State Parties.

Guyana had signed on to the Treaty earlier this month on June 3.

Rodrigues-Birkett in moving the motion, told the National Assembly that the Treaty is the first legally binding, multilateral instrument to regulate the international trade in conventional arms. She said that 154 countries voted for this Treaty when it was adopted by the UN and three were against it and 23 countries abstained.

According to the Minister, the Treaty became open for signature on June 3, 2013 and now has 74 signatories inclusive of Guyana and 10 Caricom countries. This Treaty, she said, fills a critical gap in international law as it relates to the transfers of conventional arms. Once effectively implemented, she said, it will make a real and positive difference for millions around the world especially those who live in conflict areas.

APNU’s Africo Selman in supporting the motion said that its signing is timely as in all parts of the world the ready availability of weapons and ammunition has led to human suffering, crime and terror. She said that as a result of the irresponsible transfers of conventional weapons “Guyana witnessed a pattern of unlawful killings.” In this light, she mentioned the troubles at Agricola, Eccles, Bartica, Buxton and Lusignan.

Selman added that “our experience has taught us that the irresponsible transfers of weapons can destabilize security in our country and create a climate of fear in society.” She added that the fact that Guyana is among the first set of nations to sign the Treaty, is a clear indication of the country’s willingness and determination to address the poorly regulated international arms trade. This, she noted, “is a step in the right direction”.

However, the MP said that while her party applauds this move, there is concern about the “numerous weaknesses.” She asserted that APNU will continue to show its commitment to arms control by ensuring that “we implement the necessary enabling regulations.

“We have to be mindful that we do not sign and ratify treaties and then honour them in the breach…If a nation cannot maintain democratic law and order, it will not be able to maintain the Arms Trade Treaty,” Selman declared.

Meanwhile, Alliance for Change member Moses Nagamootoo spoke of the need to understand the link between the guns and narco trade. Corruption and arms is another angle that has to be looked at, he said. “If we are not serious on combatting corruption in Guyana then you might as well not sign Treaties because when you deal with corruption…then you are condoning the amassing of dirty money,” he said noting that this empire of dirty money is protected by guns.

Nagamootoo stressed that Guyana’s commitment to international law must not simply be nominal or an act for a photo opportunity but “it must be meant to live those acts to which we commit ourselves.”

APNU MP Winston Felix in adding to the debate said that one has to question government’s record of signing treaties overseas and returning to Guyana and failing to do anything about them.He said that this also raises the question as to whether government committed to implementing the treaty and its requirements.

Felix pointed out that Guyana has large uncontrolled borders and illicit arms enter freely, in addition to illegal airstrips in which drugs and arms and other illegal activities are facilitated. “It is therefore in our interest to cooperate with the international community to ensure that we fight against this nefarious trade,” he said.

Based on experiences from the past including the assassination of a minister, Felix said that government is barely able to protect miners and fishermen from pirates. “This is an important motion which the APNU supports but we must bemoan government’s attitude in making a step forward and not following through with the correct action. We hope that this (motion) receives the full support of government and that they bring the legislation to this parliament to give effect to the treaty which is what is required to make it operable in Guyana,” he stressed.

Felix stated that APNU expects “government to do it properly” and for all of the government MPs to play their respective roles “in ensuring that the correct thing is done and that we are able to add our lot to prevent the circulation of illicit arms and ammunition around the world.”

Rodrigues-Birkett, in closing said she has noted that all the opposition members who spoke called for the need to have enabling legislation to ensure that the treaty has teeth.

“It is a travesty that the import, export, diversion and illegal transfer is still not on our law books as an offence. That is an example of bad political management because the Bill was here,” she said.
The UN register on conventional arms currently does not include small arms and light weapons and this treaty will now ensure that the reporting mechanism is put in place, the foreign minister said. Noting that the Treaty comes after seven years of diplomatic efforts, she said that this is a necessary and important step forward. “It represents a balance of interest …from all sides,” the minister asserted.
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