At the Exeter Amnesty Alternative Student Conference, we were shown two bullets. As dangerous a single bullet can be, they seemed small in comparison to all the weapons in the world. What harm can two bullets do? We were then told something startling. That for every single person on the globe right now, there are two bullets. That’s around 12 billion bullets, or almost twice as many as the 7 billion people on the planet. Enough for the entire global population to be killed twice over.

Every day, people are dying as a result of arms. Since 1989, 250,000 people die each year due to armed conflict, and 300,000 more are killed by armed individuals outside of conflict areas. In addition to these tragedies, 26 million people were displaced by armed conflicts in 2008. Yet at the same time, the UK remains one of the top players in the global arms trade, with only Germany, Russia and the US selling more.

Currently, the UK government claims that arms dealings are strictly regulated. However, this claim simply does not stand up to scrutiny. The UK has supplied arms to Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Turkey, Indonesia and Syria, countries that have all been criticised for human rights abuses. A powerful example of this comes from the recent uprisings in the Middle Eats and North Africa. Human rights concerns were not enough to prevent the UK from selling arms to Libya, arms that were used by Gaddafi’s forces to commit acts of violent brutality towards peaceful civilian protestors. Bahrain and Yemen, both accused by international human rights organisations of horrific crackdowns against anti-government protestors, had arms sold to them by UK companies. And these were no small deals. In 2010, the value of the arms and ammunition licensed by the UK to Libya came to a total just over £7,000,000.

The UK is not alone in this. Nations such as Bulgaria, the US, China, France and Italy sold arms to governments involved in the Arab Spring, in spite of EU and other national regulations concerning the arms trade promising that human rights would be upheld. Without immediate tough international regulations, people will continue to suffer and die at the hands of weapons sold to governments and militia by nations that publically denounce such violence. And the deadline is approaching fast. There are now only just over six months to go before the July 2012 deadline, and we have to get it right. Human rights organisations now view this date as the final chance to achieve a truly worthwhile global arms treaty. Yet despite this hope, there are still points of concern. Control Arms, a global alliance of various organisations that support the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), demands that the treaty cannot be watered down. It must enshrine human rights law, be enforceable, include all weaponry and all forms of trade, be completely transparent and hold all nation states to accountability. If these factors are achieved, this treaty will prove the global community’s commitment to protecting the human rights of all people, wherever they live. Without them, it is just mere lip service.



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