Ministers and civil society leaders from 18 African countries, U.N.
disarmament officials, and arms-control advocates are meeting in the
Kenyan capital Nairobi to try to form a united position on a proposed
treaty to regulate the global arms trade. As VOA Correspondent Alisha
Ryu reports from Nairobi, the arms treaty is viewed as a critical
element in international efforts to reduce the human and economic cost
of conflicts, especially in Africa.
Speaking at the opening of the arms treaty conference on Wednesday, Kenya's Assistant Foreign Minister Richard Onyonka urged quick ratification of the Arms Trade Treaty, saying that unregulated weapons sales posed one of the biggest threats to long-term development in Africa.
"Development and reduction of violence go hand-in-hand. Long-term development is impossible without long-term security. The linkage could not find a better context than the situation in Africa. The cost of armed conflicts and violence, as well as the concomitant human tragedy here in Africa, is conservatively estimated at $18 billion annually," he said.
The cost is mostly through lost human and economic potential and it is roughly equivalent to the amount of aid that the continent receives from donor nations each year.
The proposed treaty would not to ban the sale of conventional arms. But it would establish common standards that all nations would have to abide by, including prohibiting the transfer of weapons if they are likely to be used to violate human rights and humanitarian law or if they could fuel an existing conflict or hinder development.
The head of the U.N.'s Conventional Arms Branch for Disarmament Affairs Daniel Prins tells VOA that such standards are urgently needed because the global arms trade is believed to be adding eight million more guns a year to the 650 million in circulation around the world. And 60 percent of those guns are in the hands of civilians, most of them in developing countries.
"Many states do not have a framework of rules under which they would export or import weapons and that is very much needed because we see that the old structure in the world, where you have a few producers and many recipients of arms, do not count anymore. For instance, we see in the field of small arms that there are now more than 100 countries that produce arms," he said.
At the U.N. General Assembly two years ago, 153 states voted in favor of the Arms Trade Treaty, 24 states abstained, and the world's largest arms exporter, the United States, voted against it. The Bush administration was criticized for arguing that the treaty was unnecessary because the United States and other major exporting countries have strict national rules governing arms exports.
Ambassador Philip Richard Owade from the Permanent Mission of Kenya to the United Nations in Geneva says he believes it is up to countries that suffer the most from arms proliferation to show unity in favoring the passage of an arms treaty and help move the process toward a global consensus. "As you know, treaties quite often do not have to be universal from the word, 'go.' Those who are willing would go ahead and then develop norms that we hope in the end, even those who are against it would be able to embrace," he said.
Under the treaty, governments would also be required to report their arms transfers to an international register, a move which arms control advocates say will lead to greater public scrutiny and confidence.