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Oxfam says Arms Trade 'Paralyzing' Development

Demonstrators hold balloons in front of the Reichtags building to protest against arms trade, Germany, February 26, 2012.
Demonstrators hold balloons in front of the Reichtags building to protest against arms trade, Germany, February 26, 2012.
LONDON - The “poorly regulated” global arms market is “paralyzing” development, according to a report by the Britain-based aid group Oxfam. The report was timed for release before international negotiations on the global arms trade begin next month in New York.

"The impacts of the unregulated arms trade are profoundly felt in development terms," said Deepayan Basu Ray, a policy advisor for Oxfam on the arms trade. "Most fragile and conflict-affected states are spending very heavily on their military and this is often the case triple that of the regular expenditure on health or education."

He says average military expenditure in fragile and conflict-affected states rose by about 15 percent between 2009 and 2010.

The Oxfam report says the global trade in arms is a double-edged sword, it can fuel and exacerbate armed conflict while at the same time diverting resources away from poverty reduction.

Oxfam says it wants development to be a key concern when countries meet at the United Nations in New York to negotiate an Arms Trade Treaty.

The month-long July talks are aimed at developing a multi-lateral treaty to regulate international arms sales. Basu Ray says part of the criteria of any deal should be that states do not complete transfers of arms if they will be used to undermine social-economic development. He says that has happened in the past.

"So an example that I can give you is the sale of radar equipment to Tanzania by BAE systems some years ago," Basu Ray. "And it was found by the civil aviation authority that the transfer was completely inappropriate for the Tanzanian national context, and that it was such an expensive deal that it affected education financing for the next 10 years. That is the kind of trade that we want to put a stop to."

Oxfam is not the only group campaigning hard for a robust arms trade deal.

Last month, Britain-based Amnesty International made it one of the key issues of its annual report.

Amnesty’s arms control manager, Brian Woods, says human rights must be at the cornerstone of any agreement.

"Too few governments are undertaking very rigorous risk assessment procedures before they agree to approve arms exports and also imports," said Woods. "So, for example, if you are going to send arms to a country where there have been human-rights problems there needs to be a very thorough assessment of the risk of whether that arms transfer would be used for serious violations of human rights or for war crimes, for example."

Oxfam is campaigning for the regulation of ammunition to be included in a global treaty. In a report it published last month, Oxfam said the global ammunitions industry for small arms and light weapons is worth more than $4 billion a year and produces around 12-billion bullets.