A last push for an effective global arms trade treaty

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Next week the world’s diplomats convene in New York 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 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. Our organizations and others waged a worldwide 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 Canada has worked to ensure that the treaty will not infringe on the rights of lawful gun owners, a principle that is clearly established in the draft treaty. Having won that battle, Canada can now turn to strengthening the text in other areas.

Here are priority aspects that need Canada’s attention:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Promote stringent provisions for regulating the shady world of arms brokers, who act as go-betweens in weapons deals.
  • 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.)
  • 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 with teeth, 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. Now is the time for active diplomacy by Canada and other proponents to bring this treaty to fruition.
Kenneth Epps is senior program officer at Project Ploughshares. Mark Fried is policy co-ordinator at Oxfam Canada. Hilary Homes is campaigner for international justice, security, and human rights at Amnesty International Canada. Lina Holguin is policy director at Oxfam Quebec.


Impact of the arms trade

  • Between 794,000 and 1,115,000 people died as a direct result of armed conflicts between 1989 and 2010.
  • An estimated average of at least 200,000 people die every year as an indirect result of armed conflict.
  • An estimated 42 per cent of global murders are committed by individuals and criminal gangs using firearms.
  • Only 35 countries publish reports on international transfers of conventional arms and only 25 provide data on actual deliveries.
  • In 2010, the total value of global international conventional arms transfers worldwide, as recorded in national statistics, was approximately $72 billion in US dollars.

Sources: UN, TransArms, Uppsala Conflict Data Program, Geneva Declaration

This article was first published March 13, 2013 in Embassy News

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