Thursday, 12 February 2004

Questions (59, 60, 61, 62)

Gerard Murphy

Question:

43 Mr. Murphy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he supports the control arms joint campaign of Oxfam and Amnesty International; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4245/04]

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Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

80 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Government will issue a public statement in support of the global arms trade treaty; if the Government is explicitly in support of the control of the legal export of arms; if the Government supports and will participate in the Finnish proposal for a conference of the willing on this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4325/04]

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Dan Boyle

Question:

132 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position the Government has taken on the control arms campaign as promoted by organisations (details supplied). [4487/04]

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Dan Boyle

Question:

133 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the actions the Government is taking to secure the adoption of an international arms trade treaty at the UN arms conference to be held in 2006. [4488/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 43, 80, 132 and 133 together.

I am aware of a process led by a number of non-governmental organisations, including Amnesty International and Oxfam, aimed at the development of an international arms trade treaty which is intended to be a legally binding agreement with core principles and mechanisms relating to international transfers of arms. A welcome aspect of the proposed treaty is that it has the objective of setting out states' existing international legal obligations in the area of international transfers of arms. In addition, once ratified, the draft framework treaty would enable the international community to move forward incrementally, by means of subsequent more specific instruments.

While work on the drafting of the text is still ongoing, it is a promising initiative and I commend the NGOs concerned for their efforts. I understand that the text of the proposed treaty is currently being re-examined from a legal perspective by those NGOs involved in the arms control campaign who are meeting this month in Costa Rica and that as a consequence of those discussions revisions to the text may be made. We await the outcome of that meeting. I also understand that the UN arms conference in 2006 will review progress made under the UN programme of action to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects of 2001. The remit of the proposed international arms trade treaty is, however, not confined to small arms and light weapons, but also currently includes heavy weapons. Pending finalisation of the text of the proposed draft treaty and clarification of its focus, it would be premature to consider what actions would be appropriate in 2006. Ireland will, however, continue to be associated with the process and will closely monitor developments.

The Government is fully supportive of the principle of having legal controls on arms. Currently, all exports of arms from EU countries must conform to the EU code of conduct on arms exports, which establishes criteria to control such exports. Ireland was actively involved in the establishment of this politically binding code, which was adopted by the EU General Affairs Council in June 1998. The code lists the factors to be taken into account when deciding whether to allow an export of military goods, including respect for human rights, the internal situation in the country of final destination and the preservation of regional peace, security and stability. Discussions are ongoing in the Union on the possible reinforcement of the status of the code of conduct, for example, by its transformation into an EU common position, which would be legally binding. Ireland is supportive of such a reinforcement of the code.

With respect to the proposal to host a meeting in Finland on the subject of the proposed international arms trade treaty, Ireland is supportive of international efforts to make progress. It was in this context that an official of my Department participated in a conference held last November at Cambridge University in England, the purpose of which was to examine the text of the draft treaty. Formal notice of the Finnish meeting has not yet been issued, although I understand that it will take the form of a workshop which will examine the draft treaty in the wider context of export controls. Ireland would be willing to participate in the event that an invitation is issued.

The proposed international arms trade treaty is also under discussion within the EU. Discussions have taken place at working group level, most recently last month, and will continue during Ireland's Presidency of the EU.