High level event on the Arms Trade Treaty

Press conference with the Foreign Minister of Costa Rica, Foreign Minister of Finland and UK Foreign Office Minister

Subjects: Arms Trade Treaty, Syria, CHOGM 2013, Israel

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

25 September 2013

FOREIGN MINISTER BISHOP: Good afternoon. I am very pleased to be here today, alongside fellow Arms Trade Treaty resolution co-authors – Costa Rica's Foreign Minister Enrique Castillo; Finland's Foreign Minister Dr Erkki Tuomioja; and the United Kingdom's Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt – to celebrate another historic day for the Arms Trade Treaty.

I am delighted to announce that we celebrate the Arms Trade Treaty reaching over 100 signatories – 107 in fact. This morning, here in New York, an additional 17 Member States became signatories to the treaty and I'd like to particularly welcome signatories from Australia's region, the Asia Pacific-Indian Ocean, including Samoa, Nauru, Kiribati, and the Philippines. And of course it's very significant that the United States, the world's largest exporter of arms, signed the treaty this morning here in New York.

Now, in addition to these signatories, we've also seen new ratifications of the treaty by Costa Rica and Trinidad and Tobago, bringing the total of ratifications to six. Before I hand over to the Foreign Minister of Costa Rica to speak more about the significance of the milestone today, I want to underline the importance of building on the strong international momentum which is now behind the Treaty to ensure its earliest entry into force so that the Treaty's great humanitarian and security potential can begin to be realised as early as possible. After all, this is about saving lives.

And this is what today's ATT High Level Event is all about and this is what is driving the co-authors. We have reached this point through the strong partnership between the coauthors over the years, through the closest possible collaboration with those most impacted by the illicit and irresponsible trade in conventional arms, especially in Africa, the Caribbean, Central and Southern America, and the Asia Pacific.

The ATT also complements other United Nations and regional efforts to promote security and address the humanitarian and economic consequences of conflict. And in this regard, I will chair a debate on small arms in the Security Council tomorrow, drawing attention to the threat that this trade poses to international peace and security.

The ATT provides a strong and balanced framework – but we know that the crucial part will come in the treaty's implementation, and we should not underestimate the challenges. The illicit trade in conventional arms is strongly entrenched in many parts of the world. Those who profit from this trade will not give up easily. Those who use the trade to prosecute their violent political agendas will seek to find, and seek to exploit, any loopholes.

Australia recognises that the ATT will require many states to strengthen their national systems for controlling imports and exports, and we know that this won't be easy. In recognition of this, Australia has made an early commitment to support these reforms through a $1million contribution to the United Nations Trust Facility to Support Cooperation of Arms Regulation. That facility is now operational and receiving proposals for consideration.

So in closing, before passing to Foreign Minister Castillo, I would like to recognise the enormous contribution of civil society to the ATT through its committed advocacy over many years and civil society will have an important role in support of effective implementation of this treaty.

So, Foreign Minister – over to you.

ENRIQUE CASTILLO, FOREIGN MINISTER OF COSTA RICA: Thank you very much, good afternoon. Costa Rica is very proud of belonging to this co-author first group because after such long and difficult negotiations we had, we have been successful. We are successful today with 107 signatures. So that is a reason to be proud and also to be grateful to the civil society because without their help we couldn't be successful.

We are very pleased to underline that today we have deposited the ratification instrument so we become the fifth country in the world, probably the first in the Americas, to ratify. And besides that our President Chincilla, Laura Chinchilla, announced today that Costa Rica will put the treaty in application even before the required number of ratifications are ready. So as of today, we adopted an executable instrument. So that's a way (in) which Costa Rica wants to show its commitment with the Treaty, with its application in the next future and we will, we are ready to continue collaborating with our fellow members of the Co-authors group to enforce the Treaty and try to make progress on its application. Thank you very much.

FOREIGN MINISTER BISHOP: Ok, are there any questions for the Ministers from Costa Rica, Finland or the United Kingdom? Did you wish to say anything? Please.

ERKKI TUOMIOJA, FOREIGN MINISTER OF FINLAND: It is just to agree with what has been said by my colleagues and a special thanks to the co-authors who will continue working together to see that the Treaty is not only signed, ratified but also implemented. This calls for work from all of us and I would also like to recognise the role that the three other Co-authors – Argentine (sic), Japan and Kenya – have played and will continue to play in our cooperation. And this includes working together with civil society because the NGOs will be also needed in the on-going process of ratification. Thankyou.

FOREIGN MINISTER BISHOP: I'll just ask Alistair Burt to say a few words, thank you.

ALISTAIR BURT, UNITED KINGDOM FOREIGN OFFICE MINISTER: Thank you Madam Foreign Minister and Excellencies, just to say the United Kingdom is very proud to stand here again as part of the on-going process of delivering the ATT. We recognise the extraordinary story that this has been from determination over a lengthy period of time by many different parties to see an end to a trade which if we remember rightly is taking a life every minute somewhere in the world of a man, woman or child through illegal weapons. The ATT will not completely stop that but it will make that more difficult. And accordingly now the commitment - having done what we've done - is to make sure we move to signature, to ratification. We've been extremely proud to stand with our partners over this period of time. Partners not only in terms of States, but also domestically of the United Kingdom industry that has worked very hard to ensure that there is a legitimate defence industry and that means an end to the illegitimate arms trade. But also with our civil society that's worked so very hard to make sure this day has come about.

So we will remain, with our partners, very committed to this process, making sure it continues to be a success. It will, we will drive it, we will support, as Madam Foreign Minister has said, the efforts being made to ensure that countries have the capacity to turn this into practice in their own cases. We also have made a contribution to UN work in this regard and through that and through the EU we've committed some �350,000 to this work. So I hope people can see that this is not just…a diplomatic step being taken by the UN, but it has force and determination both to have got us to this point and that will continue in the years to come.

So thank you very much, but the United Kingdom remains very proud to work with its partners in such an important issue.

FOREIGN MINISTER BISHOP: Thank you. Questions?

JOURNALIST: Could someone, maybe Finland or Costa Rica, explain how the Treaty would apply to this idea of arming groups, for example rebels in Syria? A number of countries that are signatories have said that they want to do just that. And so the question arises - what type of review goes on before actually giving people arms? And I do have one question for Australia and the UK, which is that I know that both countries sponsored or attended an event with Sri Lanka for the Commonwealth. And people have raised questions about, given the human rights record and militarisation, and I wanted to know particularly from Australia, what place human rights in Sri Lanka has in your determination to go to the CHOGM and whether it came up at yesterday's event? Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER BISHOP: Right, well the first issue in relation to Syria. Signatories have obligations under this Treaty, and we'll expect them to honour those obligations. That's why we're so keen to encourage as many Member nations as possible to sign up to it. It's significant that the United Nations, sorry the United States, which amounts to about 80 per cent (sic) of the world's export in arms, has signed - that's why that is so vital. But all those who have signed do have obligations which will impact in the Syrian conflict. Do you have any other comment on that…on Syria?

ALISTAIR BURT, UNITED KINGDOM FOREIGN OFFICE MINISTER: I'm happy to (inaudible) on Sri Lanka, if you like.

FOREIGN MINISTER BISHOP: Well…yes.

ALISTAIR BURT, UNITED KINGDOM FOREIGN OFFICE MINISTER: Just briefly on Sri Lanka. The position of the United Kingdom is that the opportunity of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting being held in Sri Lanka is firstly about the Commonwealth. The fact of its location in Sri Lanka is important, but it's not the only thing that will be discussed. The human rights issues in Sri Lanka are extremely important. We support the efforts being made there to see the LLRC recommendations being put into practice. We have a long and continuing dialogue with Sri Lanka in terms of its own pathway to reconciliation and whether or not that pathway is being met. And the ability of states to go to Sri Lanka for that Heads of Government Meeting gives an opportunity for a spotlight to be shone both on those areas where progress is being made in Sri Lanka, as there has been progress, and those areas where there are some concerns about what is happening there. But the importance of the Commonwealth being involved and the Commonwealth having a strong view in terms of values and the like, is an important part of the process.

FOREIGN MINISTER BISHOP: You asked about Australia's position. It is a bipartisan position in Australia that we continue to engage with Sri Lanka, particularly in relation to the holding of the CHOGM meeting in Colombo. Rather than isolate Sri Lanka, we believe that more can be achieved. I have visited Sri Lanka this year and have observed for myself and made enquiries myself as to the situation. Progress has been made but there is a way to go in terms of reconciliation, resettlement, restructuring of the country. I think it would be useful for Commonwealth Ministers to see for themselves what is going on in Sri Lanka. I would encourage them to attend, to visit outside of Colombo, have a look at the country, particularly the north. We welcome the fact that northern provincial elections have taken place. There was an overwhelming vote of support and the TNA will now have the challenge of delivering services into the north, which of course has been the scene of such bloody conflict for such a long period of time.

So we are encouraged by the number of ministers who are attending. We believe that Sri Lanka will have an opportunity to show what progress has been made, including in the area of humanitarian support and human rights.

JOURNALIST: Madam and Mister Ministers. Could you outline how long you think it would take and the procedure of the Treaty to come into force? And I'm sure you're don't expect a ratification from the United States since our Senate rarely ratifies any Treaty, not even the rights of the child.

FOREIGN MINISTER BISHOP: Well, it's obviously of interest to us that the Treaty come into effect as soon as possible. For example Australia aims to ratify the ATT as soon as possible but we have a parliamentary process that we must go through - through a Treaties Committee - to ensure that ratification can take place, and we hope that that will happen in 2014, as the new government. Also, we are hoping that at least the 154 States that have supported the resolution will vote in favour of our First Committee resolution on the ATT.

As far as the coming into force of the Treaty, well obviously six ratifications are a start and we hope to see many more and hopefully more this week.

Any other comment on that?

ERKKI TUOMIOJA, FOREIGN MINISTER OF FINLAND: Finland will complete her ratification by the end of this year. And it is our common estimate that in the first months of 2014 we will have the 50 ratifications, thus the Treaty (will) enter into force.

I also expect that many of those countries who have signed will, even before ratification, also follow the content of the Treaty and respect its policies.

FOREIGN MINISTER BISHOP: The magic number is 50 required for ratification for the Treaty to come into force. Yes?

JOURNALIST: Minister, if I could ask you a question on another subject. I was wondering if Aus…if your new government in Australia is going to change its policy towards Israel…

FOREIGN MINISTER BISHOP: …Not change its policy. Australian is a staunch friend and ally of Israel and if you're referring to our voting pattern at the United Nations, we will consider any resolution that involves Israel on its merits and will vote accordingly – as we've done in the past. Yes?

JOURNALIST: Concerning the new government in Australia. Do you foresee that support for the ATT and its ratification will be as strong as the current government? And do you know whether Russia has definitely decided not to sign the Treaty or what its position is? If that has been communicated? Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER BISHOP: Australia has a long history of commitment to the ATT and it's a bipartisan position in our country and I can assure you that the new government remains as committed to the ATT as it did the last time it was in government. And we hope to ratify the Treaty as soon as possible, subject to the parliamentary process of which I spoke. But as it's a bipartisan position I hope that that will be swift. I've not had any message from Russia that they are determined not to sign it and we certainly will continue to encourage Russia to be a party to it.

ALISTAIR BURT, UNITED KINGDOM FOREIGN OFFICE MINISTER: I just remember when a new Conservative-led coalition came into office in 2010. It was asked exactly the same question by supporters of the ATT, would there be any difference? The answer is I was one of the first people to sign the ATT so I'm sure Madam Foreign Minister puts it in neat context – there are some things that are bipartisan. That's certainly been the case in the United Kingdom. And I'm sure she put her position entirely correctly and we have had exactly the same questions, Madam.

FOREIGN MINISTER BISHOP: Well, anything further? Thank you very much – thank you for your attendance.

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