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In ATT Garbage Time, Liechtenstein Parses Versions, Consensus is a Feeling?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April 2 -- After a full day of Arms Trade Treaty speeches in an increasingly empty UN General Assembly, one's eyes can glaze over at the interpretations offered, to mix a metaphor. But if it's not reported on now, when will it be?

And so we turn back to what Liechtenstein said late in the afternoon, just before the Holy See spoke last.

  As clarified to Inner City Press after its 140 character tweet didn't capture all the nuance -- “ the tweet below was just forwarded to me, thanks for drawing attention to my statement this afternoon in the plenary” -- Liechtenstein's deputy permanent representative Stefan Barriga's point was that the term “overriding risk” in the English text contains not surprisingly some ambiguity in it:

“namely whether in the risk assessment some other factors could be taken into account, other than just the probability of the risk materializing. That ambiguity, however, could be resolved when looking at other language versions, all of which are equally authentic. The French version speaks of 'preponderant risk,' the Spanish of 'manifest risk,' and the Russian of 'significant risk.' These clearer and narrower terms should prevail over the more ambiguous “overriding risk”. Check out Article 33, paras. 3 and 4 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which addresses the issue. (A separate question would of course be how to reconcile the French, Spanish and Russian version – but they are really not very far apart).”

We love this stuff -- so much, it seems, that we conflated it with a separate Russian reliance on its language version of the text, on which it abstained. Anyway, duly noted.

In back to back press conferences about the ATT, Inner City Press asked president Peter Woolcott what consensus meant to him. He agreed with the general UN version, though he said he doesn't like it.

Mexico, on the other hand, is arguing that consensus is not a rule but a feeling in the room, that any president, like Woolcott was, can brand as consensus. Would this work in the budget committee? We doubt it. But we'll keep covering it. Watch this site.

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