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UN Arms Trade Treaty Talks Begin

  • Joe DeCapua

Formal negotiations began Monday on a new international treaty to control the trade of conventional weapons. More than 190 nations are taking part at U.N. headquarters in New York.

Supporters of the treaty say it would save thousands of lives every year. The Control Arms Campaign, a coalition of civil society groups, says 128 armed conflicts since 1989 have claimed about 250, 000 deaths each year.

The campaign says since 2006, the “vast majority of governments in Africa, Europe and Asia have voted in the General Assembly for the development of the treaty.”

Anna MacDonald, OXFAM’s head of the Arms Control Campaign, says the treaty would control everything from small arms and ammunition to tanks and planes.

“The purpose of the treaty,” she says, “would be to ensure that the arms trade, which currently doesn’t have any effective global regulation, is properly regulated. And the arms aren’t flooding into some of the world’s worst conflict zones.”

She says the unregulated arms trade fuels human rights abuses and undermines poverty reduction.


Once the treaty is negotiated and agreed upon, MacDonald says, “It would mean any arms transfer that was coming from a country or passing through needs to be authorized by the government of that country against a set of criteria, which would include ensuring that there was no high risk that the arms were going to be used in human rights abuses or were going to unstable or a conflict area.”

She says currently there’s a lack of regulations governing the conventional arms trade, such as export controls.

“What this means is at best we have a patchwork system of arms control. And any unscrupulous arms dealer can easily find their way around it. Which is why we find so many weapons flooding into some of the poorest parts of the world,” she says.

Corruption plays a role, too

MacDonald says, “Corruption is a problem in the arms trade. Yes, we would want to see an arms trade treaty help to increase transparency and accountability within the arms trade. And we believe the responsible aspects of the arms industry would also welcome this. Because what we’re talking about is not stopping or preventing the arms trade. We’re talking about ensuring very sensible regulation within the arms trade.”

Taking a toll

The Control Arms Campaign says the lack of regulations results in many people being killed or wounded every day.

“We estimate that around 2,000 people die a day from armed violence around the world. And many more are forced to flee their home, see their lives and livelihoods destroyed,” says MacDonald.

There’s a financial toll, as well. “We estimated that Africa loses (US) $19 billion a year as a result of armed violence and conflict. These are all situations that can be stopped, that governments do have the power to prevent.”

MacDonald says while an arms trade treaty if not a panacea, “it would certain go a long way to prevent the situation that we have at the moment …making bad situations a whole lot worse.”

Draft treaty

The negotiations over the next two weeks at the U.N. will determine when a draft treaty would be available. “That’s really dependent on governments…and the level of political will and ambition they have to make this happen,” she says.

The current negotiations are a prelude to a final negotiating conference in 2012.

The OXFAM official says there’s been a “huge amount of support” for the treaty from governments in conflict zones. “More than 150 governments have voted in favor of it.”