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European Human Rights Groups Appeal for Control of Arms Trade - 2003-12-10

European human rights activists have marked International Human Rights day with a call for the world's biggest powers to support a treaty to control the trade in conventional arms.

Three prominent British-based human rights groups lead the appeal: Amnesty International, Oxfam and the International Action Network on Small Arms.

The groups say more than half a million people are killed each year by conventional arms. Also, they say, at least 80 percent of all black market small arms sales begin as legitimate, state-approved transactions.

The director of international programs at Oxfam, Jasmine Whitbread, explained the goals of the proposed treaty to control small arms sales.

"It's about putting the onus on the supplier countries to find out who they are selling their arms to," he said. "It's really no more onerous a control than there already are on many other businesses in the world. With a business of over $20 billion a year, and with so many arms circulating in such a deadly business, really, it's a scandal that there haven't been controls in place up until now."

The campaign announced Wednesday that the political leaders of seven countries have pledged their support for the treaty. The countries are Brazil, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Finland, Macedonia, Mali and the Netherlands.

The 2003 edition of the Small Arms Survey says the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China produce nearly 90 percent of all the world's firearms. The Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva compiles the annual survey.

Oxfam President Mary Robinson said the five biggest arms suppliers, all permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, have a responsibility to help control the arms trade and stop weapons sales to human rights abusers, repressive governments and criminals.

Ms. Robinson, who is also the former president of Ireland and the former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, planned to speak on the issue at a reception with British lawmakers late Wednesday.