Arms Trade Treaty: A Second Chance?

After a month of intense negotiations in New York, the UN conference for an Arms Trade Treaty has reached a stalemate.

Believed to have been influenced by domestic gun rights lobbying groups, the US refused to sign the treaty, allowing other reluctant nations including Russia and China to stand down. Despite an overwhelming majority of willing UN members including the UK, the necessity for total consensus from the 103 nations brought talks to a standstill. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon described their behaviour as a “setback”, whilst Foreign Secretary William Hague claimed the result was “disappointing”.

Protest held on Streatham campus last year

Anyone following coverage of the talks will understand just how serious the consequences of this outcome will be. Presently the international arms trade, worth a staggering £40bn-£50bn per year, is left unregulated. Irresponsible trading of conventional weapons has allowed them into fall into the hands of terrorists and insurgents. It has allowed government to continue the political repression of their own people. Approximately 750,000 people are killed each year due to armed violence: this figure is shocking. Yet it does not even begin to cover the millions more who are displaced and made vulnerable to human rights abuses as a result of the arms trade.

It is for these reasons that Amnesty International has been at the forefront of campaigning for a robust treaty, which monitors the arms trade and applies to all nations. Since 2006, in partnership with the UN and other non-governmental organisations such as Oxfam, we have been stressing the vital importance of guidelines that will make trading more transparent and coherent, to protect those people who are most at risk. It has taken six years of lobbying at every level of government and involvement for all branches of our organisation to reach this stage. Indeed, our own campaign efforts as a student body for the past year have focused on the arms trade. Our protests around campus have demonstrated that an arms treaty is needed, and it is needed now.

Examining the result of this conference, it would perhaps seem that this effort has gone to waste and a significant opportunity has been squandered. However, a draft treaty was formed during the negotiations. Its strict guidelines will allow each nation to continue to import and export arms whilst also ensuring accountable trading. The UN will meet again in October. This time, only a 2/3 majority is required for the treaty to become binding under international law.

We have been given a second chance to implement legislation that will considerably aid the cause of international human rights. Amnesty International must therefore continue to struggle for a vigorous and comprehensive. Neither the government nor the UN should be allowed to lose momentum before this crucial goal is realised.

Caitlin Austin


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