Thursday, January 8, 2015

Arms Trade Treaty Just a First Step

It is an important first step that a Global Arms Trade Treaty is now in force. It is a tribute to the foresight of men like the Dalai Lama and Hose Ramos Horta, and Australia can be proud of the role it has played at each step along the way, playing a leading role in getting the United Nations and the nations of the world to focus on this issue.

As the first international, legally binding agreement establishing common standards for the transfer of conventional arms, the Treaty provides a basis to curb the damaging illicit arms trade. Article Six of the Treaty sets out circumstances where the export of arms is banned, including where the UN Security Council has put in place an arms embargo and where arms would be used in the commission of genocide or crimes against humanity. Article Seven requires arms exporting countries to conduct an assessment, before they export arms, as to whether the arms would contribute to or undermine peace and security, could be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international law, or acts constituting terrorism or organised crime, or could be used to commit or facilitate acts of violence against women and children.

The Treaty is far from comprehensive or perfect. It lacks enforcement mechanisms. It leaves some definitions to the nation states themselves, which is likely to prove problematic in countries like the United States of America, where gun culture is rife and the Congress is timid about controlling firearms. Grenades are not covered. Non-monetary transfers of arms may fall outside the scope of the Treaty. It will be need to be tightened up when it is reviewed in a year's time.

But there is no doubt about the importance of this work. Studies suggest that for many developing or fragile states, a combination of weak domestic regulation of authorised firearms possession with theft, loss or corrupt sale from official holdings is a bigger problem than illicit trafficking across borders.
In 2009 the Costa Rica President Oscar Arias, introducing the Treaty at the United Nations, said “it is up to us to ensure that in twenty years we do not awaken to the same terrors we suffer today... The leaders of humanity have the responsibility to put principles before profits, and enable the promise of a future in which, finally, we can sleep peacefully".

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