Controlled arms: Oxfam’s hope for the next World Humanitarian Day

by oxfamcanada | August 19, 2014
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by Martin Butcher

Around 1,500 people a day are killed in conflicts and armed violence across the globe, and among that loss are humanitarian aid workers who were trying to save lives. As we mark this year’s World Humanitarian Day, around the world Oxfam staff are responding to a bewildering number of conflicts. In Iraq, Syria and Gaza to Sudan, South Sudan and the Central African Republic and elsewhere, they are trying, usually against the odds, to help people cope with the terrible effects of armed violence.

Irresponsible arms trade fuels conflicts

Arms and ammunition traded irresponsibly or illegally help keep all these conflicts going – as they always have. That is why Oxfam helped launch a campaign for an international Arms Trade Treaty more than ten years ago, in 2003. We saw the effects of uncontrolled arms in death and displacement. We saw the cumulative, corrosive effect of armed violence on entire countries and the people in them. Around $18 billion a year – we calculated in 2007 – was the cost of this to Africa’s economy.

An international law to control arms seemed like a pipedream back in 2003, when the conflicts in Darfur and Iraq started, as it was not like the heady days of banning landmines in 1997. But more than a million people petitioned the world for the treaty and hundreds of NGOs were involved in the campaign. A few brave governments to begin with, and then dozens, championed its cause. After a decade of work, the United Nations adopted the Arms Trade Treaty by an overwhelming majority in April 2013.

Just six more ratifications...

On this World Humanitarian Day, 118 countries have now signed the treaty and 44 have ratified it. Just six more ratifications are needed before the treaty enters-into-force, and these are expected in September. This means the Arms Trade Treaty should become international law in December 2014.

But it is now that the hard work begins as Oxfam expects governments to act on the promises they have made, to give meaning to the words in the Treaty.

  • Where civilians are being targeted and disproportionately killed, as in Syria and Gaza, we expect governments to stop the flow of arms and ammunition – as they have promised in the ATT.
  • Where countries are being destabilized and are unable to develop to meet the needs of their people, as like in South Sudan and Central African Republic, Oxfam expects governments to live up to their word. Governments must act to uphold international law and create the conditions for people to live happier, more fulfilling lives in safe communities everywhere.

Government action, with the support of civil society, to begin robust implementation of the treaty is absolute essential.

And so Oxfam hopes that by the next World Humanitarian Day, there will be better controls on the arms trade so we have a more peaceful world where our humanitarian response is called upon less often and people stay alive and well.

Join in the call for ratification of the UN Arms Trade Treaty

Martin Butcher is Oxfam Great Britain Policy Adviser on the Arms Trade Treaty.

This blog originally appeared at


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