Indonesia objects to human rights precondition in UN treaty
Indonesia decided on Tuesday to abstain in the UN General Assembly’s vote on the first treaty on the global arms trade. The treaty will regulate the US$70 billion business in conventional arms and keep weapons out of the hands of human rights abusers.
“Indonesia’s stance on this matter is clear. We support the idea of a treaty to manage or regulate international trade of weapons. The problem is that the draft contains a notion of conditionality, in which arms exporters shall assess the human rights condition in the buyer countries,” Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said at the State Palace on Wednesday.
Hammered out after years of negotiations, the treaty seeks to stop cross-border shipments of conventional weapons — from small arms and missile launchers to tanks, warships and attack helicopters — that could enable war crimes, terrorism or human rights violations.
Reuters reported that the official UN tally showed 154 votes in favour. North Korea, Iran and Syria voted against the decision. Indonesia joined 22 other countries which abstained.
Marty, however, denied that Indonesia was worried about the international perception of the country’s shady human rights record and that it could hamper arms procurement.
“What concerned us was that the draft would empower exporting states to unilaterally assess whether or not a country promotes human rights principles and determine the country’s eligibility to buy weapons. It was very one-sided,” he said.
According to Marty, the power to make such an assessment could only lie with “a neutral group of eminent persons with relevant expertise to make the assessment”.
He said Indonesia hoped the treaty could establish such “a neutral group”.
Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro echoed Marty’s statement. He said the inclusion of such a precondition would contradict the 2012 Law on the defense Industry. Article 43 of the law stipulates that Indonesia must not import weapons under political preconditions.
“We already have the law and we must stick to it.”
A release from the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon hailed the treaty as a powerful tool to prevent grave human rights abuses, and added that it will provide much-needed momentum for other global disarmament and non-proliferation efforts.
“It is a historic diplomatic achievement — the culmination of long-held dreams and many years of effort,” he said. “This is a victory for the world’s people.”
Unlike in the Conference, where all 193 member states agreed on the final text, the assembly needed only a simple majority, or 97 votes, to pass the text.
Australia, meanwhile, joined the US in support of the treaty.
“We are among the original seven sponsors of the arms trade treaty. We are respecting the Indonesian position but we have the ambition that Australia will be the first to sign the treaty. There are too many illegal arms in the world today,” said Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr in a press conference at the Foreign Ministry office in Jakarta on Wednesday.
A human rights advocate from the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence, Haris Azhar, suggested that Indonesia’s reluctance to support the treaty was because of the rampant unresolved human rights abuses.
“Indonesia has failed to conduct transparent weaponry procurement for years, not to mention the use of the arms that could end up in human rights violations.
“Indonesia is well aware that the precondition provision in the treaty would be a nightmare for its arms procurement just like it was when the US embargoed arms export to Indonesia due to the 1998 kidnappings,” he said.