Arms Trade regulation marks history

Campaigners for the Control Arms coalition set up a mock graveyard next to the United Nations building in New York

After 7 years of negotiations, at the beginning of the month, the General Assembly passed an Arms Trade Treaty with 154 votes in favour, with France, the UK and the US as promoters of the initiative. Want to guess who voted against? Iran, North Korea and Syria. Russia, Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia were amongst the 23 countries that abstained.

It was precisely Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and Syria who posed obstacles during negotiations and blocked the adoption of the treaty.

Up until now, there has been no treaty in history concerning the regulation of the sales of conventional arms on a global scale, a business that makes approximately 60 million dollars in annual revenues- a substantial amount that can have considerable consequences when it falls in the wrong hands.

Trying to bring more transparency to the world of arms-dealing was the main reason that lead to the creation of this Treaty.

The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed his views on the treaty by saying that “The treaty will provide an effective deterrent against excessive and destabilizing arms flows, particularly in conflict-prone regions. It will make it harder for weapons to be diverted into the illicit market, to reach warlords, pirates, terrorists and criminals, or to be used to commit grave human rights abuses or violations of international humanitarian law.”

The treaty does not concern the private use of arms but rather obligates the various countries to regulate the use and export of so-called conventional arms: tanks, war airplanes, battle vehicles, helicopters, battle ships, missiles and light weapons such as ammunition, guns and pistols. Manufacturers will also be affected by regulation.

Furthermore, the treaty prohibits the violation of international embargo and the sales of arms to countries that could use them for crimes against humanity or war crimes or to subjects that could use them against civilians or constructions such as schools or hospitals.

Each country will be responsible for judging whether there is a risk that arms entering their borders will be used to violate human rights or if they might end up in the hands of terrorist groups or organized crime. The treaty does not imply controls on the internal use of arms within countries, but asks governments to introduce national laws on the transfer of conventional arms and of their components. With this treaty, governments will be responsible for any arms transfer that enters or exits their territory.

Many are already doubting the effectiveness of the future treaty-to-be, wondering if it will be another legislation with far too many loopholes, but I think it marks an important step made by the international community. As Angela Kane, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, commented “While the treaty is not perfect, it is certainly robust”.

The ratification of the treaty of all the countries is predicted to take place within the next 2 years, 50 countries will have to ratify for it to become valid.

Chiara Romano Bosch.

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