The Arms Trade Treaty: the Last Stand

What if there was a way to dramatically reduce armed violence, conflict and civil unrest, violations of international law, abuses of children’s rights, civilian casualties, humanitarian crises and missed social and economic opportunities?

According to a report by United Nations  Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, all of these problems could be combatted if the multi-billion-pound market in illicit weapons sales was regulated by an international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Yet several nations held up the historic Arms Trade Treaty Conference last July by seeking potential loopholes and asking for more time, including the world’s biggest arms trader: the United States. And, despite 157 states voting in favour of finalising the ATT this March, powerful lobbies continue to oppose the Treaty. With one person dying every minute in armed conflict, it is important to combat these lobbies and their deceptive claims before the treaty negotiations begin again.

 In particular, America’s National Rifle Association (NRA) continues to misleadingly assert that an ATT would infringe upon Americans’ constitutional right to bear arms. The NRA’s opposition to any trade regulations of civilian, as well as military arms, is incredibly damaging. With 650 million of the 875 million weapons in the world in the hands of civilians, many of which are used to perpetrate gross human rights abuses, it is vitally important to regulate the sale of all weapons.  Yet Jeff Abramson of Control Arms reminds us that the draft treaty under discussion specifically excludes arms-related “matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any State”. That is to say, the ATT will not stop NRA members or responsible American citizens bearing arms, but it will lessen the guns being traded into the hands of civilian groups known to be problematic.

A second, common objection to the ATT is that other nations fail to improve their export policies without a treaty, and thus clearly lack any intention to regulate their arms trade. First, it is important to note that it is not only other nations who fail to responsibly manage their weapons. For example, the USA is one of the main arms suppliers to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where weapons and ammunitions fuel human rights violations that include rape, abductions, looting and unlawful killings. The UK, too, is responsible for selling arms to several corrupt regimes who turned these weapons on civilians during the peaceful uprisings of the Arab Spring. Of course, the critics are right to say that this treaty won’t be a panacea: even if the USA, the UK and others clean up their arms exports, some unscrupulous governments will continue to ignore the rules. Crucially, however, a treaty will enable “global civil society and governments supporting the rule of law and human rights… to hold these unscrupulous governments [sic] to account and keep working to improve the treaty rules on critical issues, such as sea and air drones and labour weapons” says Brian Wood,  Arms Control Manager at Amnesty International.

To begin to reduce human rights abuses being perpetrated across the globe, we need an Arms Trade Treaty that has a comprehensive scope, includes all types of government arms, is enforceable and transparent, and enters quickly into force. After 23,786 signatures were gained and 12,000 Amnesty International members wrote to the UK government, David Cameron committed to an treaty that has human rights at its core. Now we must make sure that all other governments make the same pledge and, crucially, lobby Obama’s new administration to lead the way. If you think it is absurd that the sale of dinosaur bones and bananas is regulated, but not the sale of arms, join the University’s campaigns societies from the  25th of February as they campaign for a bulletproof Arms Trade Treaty in the run up to the final round of negotiations in March.



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