justice Issues Arms Treaty

An Arms Trade Treaty at last:  In 2014 and after seven years of negotiations the UN General Assembly has finally agreed a binding ARMS TRADE TREATY (ATT). Although it is far from perfect the treaty is a welcome step forward and opens the way for future improvements –

 In April 2013, in spite of strong opposition from arms producing countries and those with vested interests in arms manufacturing, the UN General Assembly finally agreed a legally binding Arms Trade Treaty. 154 countries voted in favour, three, North Korea, Iran and Syria – voted against while 23 countries abstained, among them Russia, China and some of the world’s leading arms producers and exporters. For the first time the United States came out in favour of the Treaty although it must be said this is probably because the terms of the treaty mirror the arms export controls that the USA already uses for its own arms exports.

The Treaty will establish common standards for the import, export and transfer of most arms_africaconventional arms – including warships and battle tanks, combat aircraft and attack helicopters, as well as small arms and light weapon (assault rifles, machine guns, mortars and grenades). The Treaty does not however, cover the transfer of ammunition.

As a result of the Treaty, states will be prohibited from selling arms to countries when they know those weapons will be used to carry out genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. The treaty also obliges all governments to assess the risk of transferring arms to a country where they could be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.  

Some groups hail its very existence as a major step forward while others see many loopholes. It is however, broadly accepted that the Treaty is far from perfect.  Its terms could have been more robust and inclusive. For example, in African conflicts most deaths and injuries are caused by the small arms munitions that are excluded from the treaty. In spite of inherent weaknesses the hope is that the Treaty can, in the future, be amended, made stronger and more effective. 

In spite of limitations the fact that a solid foundation for controlling the transfer of arms now exists is good news.  As of April 2017, 91 member states have ratified, and another 42 states have signed but not yet ratified the ATT.

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