Roger James: Help us make a global, bullet-proof arms trade treaty

It is vital that we make politicians realise our concern and know that we are watching them. You can speak out and sign a petition right now

Arms Trade Treaty

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

The words former US President, Dwight D Eisenhower, in a speech on April 16, 1953. In an average year, small arms kill around a third of a million men, women and children – and leave hundreds of thousands more injured, disabled, traumatized and grieving.

About 2,000 people die each day from armed violence, and hundreds of thousands more are displaced, maimed or loose their livelihood.  Conflict costs African countries $18bn every year.

This video Bang For Your Buck  filmed in Burundi, graphically illustrates the crisis. We have recently heard a lot about financial regulation but there are currently no legally binding, international rules regulating the even more deadly arms trade. This year there is a real opportunity to change this and stem the suffering as nations finally gather to agree a global arms trade treaty.

World military expenditure is estimated to have been $1,630billion in 2010, an increase of 1.3% in real terms.  The value of all arms transfer agreements with developing nations in 2010 was over $30.7 billion. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council  (US, Russia, France, United Kingdom and China), together with Germany and Italy account for about 85% of the arms sold between 2002 and 2009.

In 2009, the United States ranked first in the value of arms deliveries to developing nations at $7.4 billion, or 43.6% of all such deliveries. Russia ranked second in these deliveries at $3.5. billion or 20.6%. Some of the arms sold go to regimes where human rights violations will occur. Money is diverted from saving lives, health and education, encouraging corruption which often accompanies arms sales due to the large sums of money involved.

Oxfam has long been campaigning on conflict and arms issues including its membership of the Control Arms campaign, in coalition with Amnesty International and the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA). to control the arms trade.

Oxfam was a major actor in the campaign to persuade European Union member states to agree, at a 1998 EU meeting  in Cardiff,  to an arms sales “Code of Conduct” that, among other obligations, asks member states to provide data for a joint EU annual report on arms transfers and licenses.

Campaigning on landmines via the so-called Ottawa process led to the signing of the Mine Ban Treaty in 1997.  Most recently in May 2008 in Dublin, 107 countries negotiated and adopted a treaty that bans cluster bombs and provides assistance to affected communities.

The Control Arms campaign itself was launched in 2003 calling for a global treaty that is an international, legally-binding agreement that will stop transfers of arms and ammunitions that fuel conflict, poverty and serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. The campaign has been hugely successful, with over a million people worldwide joining the call for an ATT and the then UK Government playing a leading role in championing the treaty.

The UK Government along with six other countries, Australia, Argentina, Costa Rica, Finland, Kenya and Japan introduced the initial Resolution to the UN in December 2006 which kick-started the global campaign.

In October 2009, the UN voted in favour of forming an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), a legally binding agreement between with the support of 158 countries, including the United States, on using high standards in assessing whether to export conventional arms.

The first principle of an ATT is the need to prevent legal transfers of arms to state end-users which should not be receiving arms from responsible exporting states.  The second one is that it can help address the illicit smuggling of arms on the black and grey global markets.

Most states agree that all of the weapons covered by the categories used in the UN Register of Conventional Arms should fall under the scope of the treaty. These include tanks, armoured combat vehicles, artillery, combat aircraft and helicopters, warships, and missile systems. Most states, including the United States, are also in agreement that small arms and light weapons should be included in the treaty.

There are a number of organisations campaigning on the arms trade in general both in Europe and in the UK. The Control Arms campaign now has a time for action and change with the opportunity to influence crucial events.  We need to express our concerns to governments starting  with an important preparatory UN meeting (Prepcom)  on February 13 and keep up the pressure right through until we achieve a multilateral agreement  at the United Nations  treaty conference scheduled for July 2012.

This has been an incredible campaign, backed by millions around the world. If you want to know who has agreed to what – you can check here. The treaty would then have to be incorporated into the national law and regulations of every ratifying nation, and reinforced through rules such as regular public reporting.

Lives are at stake, the landmine treaty has reduced casualties from landmines by more than two thirds  and reduced the trade in landmines to almost zero, despite the fact that the US, China, India and Russia haven’t signed it. Despite this success, some governments want to weaken this treaty as several tried to do with the cluster munitions agreement until hundreds of thousands of people backed a campaign by Avaaz stopped them.

Successive UK Governments have backed this process and it is vital that the current UK Government  continues to ensure that securing a robust ATT remains a very high priority and that they maintain a strong public and negotiating position at the UN PrepCom right through until final agreement in July. This would be a historic achievement.

The control arms campaign is determined to achieve a “bullet-proof” Arms Trade Treaty. It is vital that we make politicians realise our concern and know that we are watching them. You can speak out and sign a petition right now. To support the campaign, visit Control Arms Campaign Facebook page. Visit Oxfam  who will be taking action alongside Amnesty as part of the Control Arms Campaign. Action this year can save a third of a million lives every year.

Roger James is a campaigner for Oxfam South West in Bristol

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