States sign up to arms trade treaty at UN pledging to assess risk of weapons sales to peace or security
- The Guardian, Monday 3 June 2013 14.17 EDT
Britain signed a treaty on Monday which for the first time sets out international rules designed to regulate the huge global trade in weapons. The arms trade treaty was approved by 154 votes to three, with 23 abstentions, at the UN general assembly in April in a move welcomed by Oxfam, Amnesty, and other leading human rights and aid agencies.William Hague, the foreign secretary, described the signing of the treaty by Britain and other countries as “historic”.
Under the treaty, states agree not to export weapons in the knowledge they would be used to perpetrate war crimes, genocide, attacks against civilians,”crimes against humanity” and other grave breaches of the Geneva conventions.
They also pledge to assess the risk that arms would “contribute to or undermine peace and security” or facilitate serious violations of international human rights or humanitarian law, or assist terrorism, organised crime, gender-based violence, or violence against women and children.
But the treaty, which also covers arms brokers and the issue of weapons being diverted from their stated destination, is open to wide differences in interpretation. Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said the treaty had the potential to stem the flow of weapons to conflicts; conflicts where thousands of people were killed, injured, raped, and forced to flee from their homes.
She added: “Every minute of every day at least one person dies from armed violence and conflict. Add to that the millions of men, women and children who are caught up in the effects of armed conflict through injuries, through schools, homes and hospitals being destroyed or through people being forced to flee their homes”.
Anna Macdonald, Oxfam’s head of arms control, said: “The signing of the arms trade treaty gives hope to the millions affected by armed violence every day. Gunrunners and dictators have been sent a clear message that their time of easy access to weapons is up. For generations the arms trade has been shrouded in secrecy but from now on it will be open to scrutiny”.”
The global weapons trade is estimated to total £46bn a year. Two of the world’s biggest arms exporters, Russia and China, abstained and three countries – North Korea, Syria, and Iran – voted against the treaty in April.
The Obama administration is expected to sign the treaty later this year. It has warned that its red lines include measures that “would unduly interfere with our ability to import, export, or transfer arms in support of our national security and foreign policy interests.”
It has also called the international arms trade as a “legitimate commercial activity”, and emphasised that under the treaty there is no requirement “for reporting on or marking and tracing of ammunition or explosives”. The treaty is also opposed by the powerful American National Rifle Association.
It covers such conventional weapons as tanks, artillery systems, military aircraft, military helicopters, missiles, and small arms and light weapons, and combat support equipment.