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February 13, 2012

Civil Society Pushing for Arms Trade Treaty

by Joe DeCapua

Final negotiations begin in July on the Arms Trade Treaty. The agreement would control the global trade in conventional weapons from rifles to tanks to warships. This week, the last round of preliminary talks is being held in New York.

In late 2006, the United Nations adopted resolution 61/89 that allowed work to begin on the Arms Trade Treaty, or ATT.

The proposed agreement has the support of 100 civil society groups, including the West Africa Network on Small Arms. Baffour Amoa is president of the NGO.

“It will frustrate arms traffickers and make it hard for them to ship and transship arms through naked, corrupt practices. I think it will boost the impact of existing regional protocols against small arms and light weapons proliferation. I think arms exporting countries will be more cautious in transferring arms to conflict zones and give peace-making the much needed chance,” he said.

Amoa said, “Transparency, monitoring and accountability in the arms trade may become more stringent.” But he added the ultimate goal is to save lives.

Landmines and other weapons

The Arms Trade Treaty is broader in scope that the Landmine Treaty that’s been in effect since the late 1990s.

“The landmine treaty was specific against a particular weapon that many states found unacceptable to use because of its devastating impact on human lives. The Arms Trade Treaty is really going to cover broader conventional weapons from tanks to rifles and so on and so forth,” he said.

However, because it addresses so many types of weapons, it could be harder to enforce than the landmine treaty.

“In every situation you have the good and the bad guys and I guess the bad guys will always take advantage when they find loopholes. Now with the treaty, we’re hoping that exporting countries will be more careful because they will only export after having assessed the risk associated with the transfer according to the treaty provisions. And this may change the situation drastically,” he said.

Bout

Amoa lent his support to the treaty because of his work in Liberia and Sierra Leone when those countries were engulfed in civil war.

Last year, suspected Russian Arms dealer Viktor Bout was convicted of conspiring to sell missiles and other weapons in Thailand.  He was arrested in a sting operation by U.S. and Thai authorities and is now in prison in New York. Bout has been accused of helping to fuel conflicts in West Africa, but has not been tried on those allegations.

However, Amoa said Bout left a legacy in the region.

“I can say that if one looks at the situation in Nigeria, (if) one looks at the situation in other states like Cote d’Ivoire and so on and so forth, these are countries that cannot be listed or said to be major arms producers. Yet, the kind of sophisticated weapons that were found in these countries and prolonged conflict was definitely the work of somebody, who had impunity to move weapons all over the place. And this could be associated with some of the fallout of Viktor Bout’s activities,” he said.

Amoa described statements made by the large arms producing countries regarding the treaty as “encouraging.” But differences are expected to arise in July during final negotiations in New York.

In October, Secretary of State Clinton said the United States “is committed to actively pursuing a strong and robust treaty that contains the highest possible, legally-binding standards for the international transfer of conventional weapons.”