A last push for an effective global Arms Trade Treaty


The world's diplomats are gathered in New York this week and next to hammer out the final details on a global treaty to keep weapons and ammunition out of the hands of criminals, abusive regimes and others who would misuse them.

It is painfully obvious why the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is needed. The steady supply of weapons from Russia has created a horror show in Syria. In Mali, Canada is helping to pick up the pieces from the uncontrolled migration of weapons from Libya. And there is Mexico’s bloodbath of a drug war.

A comprehensive UN treaty will oblige all arms exporting nations to prevent irresponsible and illegal transfers of weapons to those who would use them for crime, acts of terror, human rights violations and genocide.

The treaty began as a gleam in the eye of Nobel Peace laureates and civil society groups like ours more than a decade ago. Oxfam and other organizations waged a world-wide public campaign starting in 2003 that succeeded in getting the UN to begin a treaty process three years later. The most recent negotiations last July ended with a draft document but without agreement. This month’s meeting is expected to finish the deal.

To date, the federal government has worked to ensure that the treaty will not infringe on the rights of legal gun owners, a principle that is clearly established in the draft treaty. Having won that battle, the Canadian government can now turn to strengthening the text in other areas.

Here are priority aspects that need Canada’s attention:

  1. Ensure strong anti-corruption provisions to bring the treaty in line with recent government announcements that Canada will be doing more to prevent bribery in foreign trade. The arms trade is one of the most corrupt on the planet and the ATT should help tackle this blight.
  2. Champion provisions to prevent the diversion of weapons from legal sources to illegitimate end-users. The ATT must ensure that all states prohibit arms transfers if there is a substantial risk of diversion.
  3. Promote stringent provisions for regulating the shady world of arms brokers, who act as go-betweens in weapons deals.
  4. Ensure that ammunition and weapons components are fully covered since so many weapons are already in the wrong hands. (The current draft regulates these at a lower standard.)
  5. Finally, champion agreement on mandatory public reporting of weapons transfers. Only by naming and shaming can we begin to hold states to account for their actions.

The world is very close to concluding a legally-binding Arms Trade Treaty, one that could save thousands of lives and livelihoods. It’s no surprise that the ATT’s greatest champions are African and Latin American countries that have lived through the devastation wrought by the unregulated flow of weapons across borders.

The vast majority of the world’s countries are on side. Canada and other proponents must engage in active diplomacy to bring this treaty to fruition.

Lina Holguin is Oxfam-Québec Policy Director.