Geneva to host Arms Trade Treaty secretariat

Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter speaking in Cancún Keystone

The city of Geneva has been chosen as the seat of the permanent secretariat of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), a new convention that aims to regulate the international arms trade. 

This content was published on August 27, 2015 minutes and agencies, and agencies

On Thursday it was announced that states party to the ATT attending a four-day meeting in the Mexican resort of Cancún had picked Geneva as the seat of the body to police the convention. The office in Geneva will house five people but numbers are expected to grow. 

“Switzerland will support the setting up of the secretariat in Geneva and will actively implement the treaty,” Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter said. 

The Swiss authorities are reportedly paying the secretariat’s rent for four years and also paying for administrative services and fitting out the premises. Geneva had been up against Vienna, in Austria, and Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago. 

Burkhalter said in a statement: “We also welcome the clarifications regarding the decisional procedures which should allow things to advance and avoid blockages.” 

Officials from 121 governments attending the meeting in Cancún also agreed on the details of how the ATT will oversee the multi-billion dollar industry.

Countries agreed unanimously that if no absolute consensus could be agreed, votes to enable future decisions would be passed by a two-thirds majority. On procedural matters, a simple majority would suffice. The participants also agreed that future meetings of the ATT would be open to civil society groups. 

One important outstanding issue is whether states would agree on transparency rules for publishing arms sales, a complex point that arms control lobby groups say has met resistance from some European exporters unwilling to provide full disclosure. 

Booming trade 

The agreement comes as the international arms trade, both non-military and military, is flourishing. Since 2009, the global arms tradeExternal link has booked annual sales of $30 billion-$40 billion (CHF28.8-CHF38.5 billion), while military spendingExternal link has come in at $1.7 trillion a year, the equivalent of 2.6% of global gross domestic product. 

The United States is one of 130 countries to sign the ATT, but it has not ratified the treaty. Only 72 countries have completed ratification, including Switzerland. 

So-called International Geneva is home to the European headquarters of the United Nations as well as 32 other international organisations, such as the World Health Organization, the World Trade Organization and the International Committee of the Red Cross.  

In all, some 40,000 international diplomats and civil servants are based in Geneva. In addition there are around 2,400 staff working for 250 non-governmental organisations. 

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