Arms trade initiative must address human rights issues, say NGOs

A consortium of top non-governmental organisations (NGOs) has warned that a global initiative to control arms trading will be meaningless if it does not include a ban on the arms transfers that fuel human rights abuses and conflicts.

The Control Arms campaign, an umbrella organisation that includes pressure groups Oxfam, Amnesty International and the International Action Network on Small Arms, is calling on all governments to ensure their proposals for the treaty recommend such a clause.

The campaigners warn that otherwise a UN General Assembly vote in December last year to start work on the global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) will be wasted. The UN Secretary General is currently consulting all governments on the feasibility, scope and parameters of the treaty.

Oxfam’s Control Arms campaign manager Anna Macdonald said: “The ATT is potentially the most significant advance in international conventional arms controls in 20 years, offering hope to millions of people suffering in the world’s conflict zones.

“But unless the 153 governments who voted for the treaty last December follow through with tough proposals, it will not save a single life. The sceptics must not be allowed to water it down.”

The governments of Japan, the UK, Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Finland and Kenya co-hosted a meeting at the UN office in Geneva on 19 March 2007 calling on all governments to take part in the UN process to build the ATT.

The UK’s proposal calls for a legally binding treaty that covers all conventional weapons transfers between governments and by individual brokers, and includes an explicit ban on transfers that fuel serious human rights abuses, provoke conflict, undermine development or fuel violent crime or terrorism.

However, the Control Arms campaign warns that, unless the proposal also calls for the provision of additional resources to support implementation of the treaty by developing countries, the agreement could have little genuine impact on the arms trade.