Published March 15, 2013
A week before it opens a treaty conference to impose worldwide limitations on arms sales, the United Nations co-hosted and paid for a series of meetings involving 48 African nations and an anti-gun group that espouses much greater national and international control of firearms, including registration of small arms and ammunition.
The co-host of the gathering in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa was a multinational “civil society” network known as IANSA, which calls itself the “global movement against gun violence,” and aims to build a coordinated network of organizations “to stop the proliferation and misuse of small arms and light weapons,” and “make people safer by reducing demand for such weapons, improving firearm regulation and strengthening controls on arms transfers.”
U.S. members of the international network include Amnesty International, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and the Law Center for Smart Gun Laws, which on its website decries a 2008 Supreme Court decision upholding the right of individual Americans to keep a gun in their home for self-defense as “radical.”
Also in attendance was Peter Woolcott, head of Australia’s U.N. mission in Geneva, who will serve as president of the 10-day round of Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) negotiations in New York. No gun rights groups were apparently invited to attend.
Exactly what happened at the extraordinary session co-hosted by the U.N. and the anti-gun activists is not known. According to Rodger Glokpor, program manager for the U.N.’s regional center for peace and disarmament in Africa, who coordinated the meeting, “there was no public record of deliberations.”
Questions directed by Fox News to Woolcott at the Australian mission in Geneva had not been answered before this article was published. Neither were questions sent to Michele Poliakof, IANSA’s “U.N. Liaison Officer” in New York City.
In response to questions from Fox News about the event itself, Glokpor declared that the “seminar” was “just a forum for African Member States to enhance discussion on the Final Conference on ATT.” According to a U.N. flyer soliciting attendees, the meeting was merely intended to “enable African States to deepen their understanding on relevant issues associated with the final negotiations conference.”
On the other hand, Glokpor also called the meeting “an opportunity for African Member States to consider in depth the contents of the draft ATT in order to identify gaps as well as explicit inputs to be taken into account to achieve a strong ATT in line with African region’s interest.”
And letters sent by the U.N. to scores of African foreign ministers suggested that the best person to send was “the person in charge of disarmament affairs who is likely to attend the Final United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty.”
The letters went out to nations as South Sudan, the war-ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Somalia—all of which have reasons to oppose international arms trafficking—and also to nations such as Uganda, which has been accused of supplying murderous rebel forces in the neighboring DRC. Countries such as Libya, where insurgents used illegal arms—as defined by the murderous Qaddafi regime then in power-- to overthrow the dictatorship, also were included.
The hoped-for future delegates to the ATT conference were also invited to attend the preliminary at U.N. expense. Attendees had their air fares, hotel bills, and per diem living expenses paid during the session by the U.N. itself, via the local office of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Just how much money was involved in the subsidies is not known, but on its U.S. website, the German government says its foreign ministry was spending about $175,000 on the Ethiopia meeting.
Funds to support the session also came from the governments of Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands—all countries that support aggressive forms of small arms regulation that go considerably further than the Obama Administration., which vows to defend Second Amendment rights at the session, is likely to endorse.
In response to a question from Fox News, a State Department official said that for Washington’s part, “to the best of my knowledge we do not pay for other countries to attend the ATT.”
But other countries do. At a negotiating session last year on the same treaty—which ended in deadlock—Australia’s foreign minister, Bob Car, publicly declared that his country had at that time sponsored “workshops” not only in Africa but the Caribbean and Asia in support of an arms treaty deal.
Moreover, he said, Australia had paid the way for “nearly 50 delegates from some 35 developing countries to participate” in the conference negotiating round itself.
For the arms trade treaty session that begins March 18, Australia is once again covering the air fare and living expenses for a “limited number of developing countries” to attend the meeting. The representatives are “generally representatives of foreign ministries,” a UNDP spokesman said, thus “ensuring developing countries will have a voice.”
Critics of this year’s two-day African meeting, which took place in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, have other terms to describe such get-paid-to-play sessions.
“This is propaganda,” says Ted Bromund, a security policy expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation who has followed the arms trade treaty process closely, and who believes the U.S. should not be participating in the March treaty talks. “It is intended to further deepen understanding from only one side of the question.”
Bromund took special aim at IANSA’s participation in the session as a full-fledged U.N. partner. “IANSA is not simply in favor of an international arms treaty. It also favors heightened national levels of gun control.”
“The U.N. should not be busy drumming up support for one side of the issue,” he said. “The U.N. talks a lot about ‘civil society’. It really means dealing with non-government organizations it likes.”
“IANSA’s decade-long crusade for domestic gun control laws has been a major factor keeping the arms-trade-treaty process limping along,” says John Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. under President George W. Bush — and a Fox News contributor. “To be supported by the U.N. itself is shameful.”
Bolton himself locked horns with IANSA in 2001, when he helped block an earlier attempt at an arms trade agreement on the ground that it threatened American Second Amendment rights.
Moreover, Bolton sees a paradoxical loss of sovereignty for less developed nations in their reliance on non-government organizations such as IANSA . “Small states too often act like agents of the NGOs, not as sovereigns,” he says.
In fact, according to a 2010 document outlining IANSA’s “global strategic directions for the next five years,” the organization sees heightened levels of international and national gun control as just two of its aims. It also sees an important permanent role for itself in the global arms control process.
According to the IANSA strategic document, the group hopes to become a kind of international gatekeeper of sorts on conventional arms control issues. Or, as the document puts it, IANSA should become “the primary monitoring, influencing & promoting organization, and source of civil society data, on national governmental performance in meeting global/regional small arms control standards” in international conventional arms trade agreements.
Its target date for achieving that status was last year.
Such alliances between the U.N. and private sector advocacy groups have become increasingly common, especially during the tenure of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
For years now, with varying degrees of success, Ban has openly supported—and sought support from—non-government organizations, corporate partners and other elements of “civil society” to help seize a leading role in establishing a new global agenda, especially, but not always, linked to the issue of climate change.
Indeed, at one closed-door session on Long Island two years ago, top U.N. officials received with approval a position paper that explicitly declared that “the U.N. should be able to take the lead in setting the global agenda, engage effectively with other multinational and regional organizations as well as civil society and non-state stakeholders, and transform itself into a tool to help implement the globally agreed objectives.”
One additional question that the heavily subsidized U.N.-IANSA meeting in Ethiopia raises is the puzzle of exactly how those “globally agreed objectives” are themselves agreed to.
As former U.N. Ambassador Bolton puts it, “The incestuous relationship between NGOs with policy agendas and the U.N. and U.N. member states has never received adequate media attention.”