Tag Archives: arms trade treaty

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.



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