Over the past two weeks, the media has been full of stories of violent conflict escalating in Ukraine, Gaza, South Sudan, Iraq and Syria.
While these conflicts have many causes, in all cases the presence of irresponsibly or illegally traded weapons is fuelling an appalling cycle of violence. These arms prolong and deepen conflicts; they are used to kill and injure civilians, to perpetrate sexual violence, and to coerce children to become soldiers. And at the base of these problems is the irresponsible trade in arms.
In Ukraine, while separatists have sourced many of their arms from Ukraine own massive stockpiles, they have also been supplied by Russia. These items not only include assault rifles and ammunition, but also tanks and heavy artillery that have been sent across the border to aid the rebellion. Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 may have been shot down by a Buk missile system supplied to the rebels by Russia.
In Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories civilians are bearing the brunt of the current conflict; in Gaza they make up 75% of all casualties. There is an urgent need for the end of the conflict, as well as an end to the steady stream of arms flowing to the area. While the reasons for the most recent upsurge of violence and the steps that could lead to a lasting peace are many and complex, a continued flow of arms to the region is definitely not the answer and is highly likely to lead to further civilian deaths.
While the situations in the Ukraine, Gaza, and Syria dominate the headlines, fighting continues in many places in Africa as well. From Libya and Nigeria to the Central African Republic and South Sudan, weapons and ammunition transfers continue at alarming rates to fragile states where the risk of human rights abuses and the escalation of conflict are all but inevitable. The world’s youngest nation, South Sudan, is on the brink of collapse. Severe hunger, mass displacement, and human rights violations are all visible in this conflict-riddled state, and while peace talks are set to resume, the shipments of millions of dollars of weapons such as grenade launchers, machine guns, and anti-tank missiles undermine efforts to stabilize the conflict.
These are examples on a long list where the irresponsible trade of weapons continues to take a heavy toll on civilian lives throughout the world. But this can change.
Just over a year ago, 154 nations voted at the UN in favour of an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), recognizing at last that controls over the global arms trade based on international humanitarian and human rights law could save many thousands of lives a year, and reduce the humanitarian harm caused by irresponsible arms transfers. Already 118 countries have signed, and 41 have ratified this important agreement.
Control Arms calls for all countries that have not already done so to sign and ratify the ATT as soon as possible. With only nine more countries required to ratify for the instrument to enter into force, the implementation of this lifesaving milestone is within reach.
In one of the areas of the world hit hardest by the scourge of the irresponsible weapons trade, the Great Lakes Region of Africa appears to be primed for a shift toward more responsible arms transfer policies. From 9-11 June, CEDAC, the leading Control Arms Coalition member in Burundi, held a regional workshop to discuss the way forward for the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in the region. About 60 participants from governments and civil society gathered in Bujumbura, Burundi for the workshop that focused ratification and implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty.
The aim of the meeting was to deepen understanding of the Arms Trade Treaty, and to share knowledge and expertise necessary for its ratification by Burundi. The meeting was a great success, preparing the way for a Burundian government meeting in July on ATT ratification, which it is hoped will follow soon after; and discussing needs in the Great Lakes region for ratification and implementation of the ATT. The meeting was informed by first Secretary Mziza of the Rwandan Embassy that Rwanda will complete its ratification process in coming weeks. CEDAC Director, Eric Niragira, announced the formation of a committee to monitor and promote ratification and robust implementation of the ATT throughout the Great Lakes region.
“By the end of the workshop, it was clear that participants had a clear knowledge of what the treaty is, what are the ratification processes along the way, and what should be done in the region to have the treaty ratified for the enforcement of peace in the region,” said Mr. Niragira.
Speakers and participants included Honorable Felicien Nduwuburundi, vice-President of the Defence Commission of the Burundian National Assembly, Brigadier General Deo of the Burundian Army; First Secretary Mziza of the Rwandan Embassy; Martin Butcher, Arms Policy Advisor at Oxfam; Julie Claveau, Burundi Director for Action on Armed Violence; as well as members of Burundian and Congolese NGOs active in the fields of disarmament, conflict resolution, armed violence reduction and peacebuilding.
African countries played a vital role in the negotiations of the ATT, not least of which was ensuring ammunition was included within the treaty’s provisions. Control Arms welcomes the continued progress being exhibited by governments within the Great Lakes region and urges other African states to follow this example and work toward ratification as soon as possible.
On 16 June, Sweden joined the Race to 50 becoming the 41st country to ratify the Arms Trade Treaty. Sweden was an early signatory, signing last June 3, 2013, alongside sixty six other states.
The instrument of ratification was deposited at the UN Headquarters by H.E. Ambassador Mårten Grunditz, who said:
“This is just the first step. The Parties to the Treaty need to work together to ensure broad adherence to the Treaty, and effective implementation. Sweden intends to be an active and constructive participant in this work.”
After the Swedish government approved the ratification the Minister of Trade, Ewa Björling said:
“I am very pleased that Sweden has now decided to ratify the Arms Trade Treaty. And it’s also especially exciting to see other countries joining faster than we had expected. The treaty will be an important tool to prevent conflicts and violence. These are the first ever legally binding global regulations on arms trade and the first time so many countries have actually committed to control trade”.
Control Arms welcomes Sweden’s ratification and urges all other signatories to join in the Race to 50 as soon as possible.
On the first anniversary of the Arms Trade Treaty’s (ATT) opening for signature and ratification, momentum continued as eight more countries deposited their ATT instruments of ratification. The deposits were made at a special ceremony at UN Headquarters and bring the total number of ratifications to 40, with just 10 more needed to meet the 50 required for entry-into-force.
The eight countries that added their support to the “Race to 50” effort are Australia, Austria, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Jamaica, Luxembourg, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Samoa. With 40 ratifications and 118 signatures being achieved in the first 12 months, the ATT is now one of the fastest treaties to move toward entry-into-force.
The global support was highlighted by Dr. Robert Mtonga speaking on behalf of Control Arms in the UN ratification ceremony. “The geographic spread of states ratifying today – from Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and the Pacific – shows clearly that this is a treaty with global support. We now need all these states, as well as all others who have signed the ATT, to live up to its aims and implement tough controls on the $85bn arms trade,” Dr. Mtonga said. He made a strong call to African states to join the #Raceto50:
“African determination and African realities helped shape the ATT into a treaty that can save lives and protect people, and reduce the scourge of armed violence. If it were not for Africa, the ATT may not have small arms and light weapons and ammunition included within the range of weapons covered. These are the weapons that cause so much devastation in my continent every day, and yet so few of them are actually produced in Africa. The AK-47 and its derivatives has become the weapon of choice in so many African conflicts, yet we estimate that over 95% of these weapons come from outside of the continent. In my work as a doctor in Africa I have treated patients who have suffered from armed violence, and I have also seen first hand how disruptive and destructive armed violence is to development efforts.
We now need African determination again to help implement the treaty to the highest standards, and to create international norms that will transform the arms trade. I call upon all African states that have not yet done so to sign and ratify the Arms Trade Treaty.”
Control Arms welcomes the new ratifications, and continues to encourage all UN Member States to act swiftly to ensure that the ATT is implemented to high standards and results in substantial action on the ground.
Control Arms welcomes the ratification of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) by Japan, which brings the world one step closer to achieving the necessary ratifications for entry into force. However it is disappointing that alongside its ratification of the ATT, Japan has abandoned its long-held ban on arms exports, and intends to start exporting arms and other military equipment.
As the UN Secretary General has recently said “the world is over armed and peace is underfunded,” we urge Japan to put its energies into encouraging all states to sign and implement the ATT, not into promoting their own arms exports.
While the ATT is not a treaty to ban all arms exports, it should also not be used as a legitimization of an increase in the arms trade. The humanitarian goals of the ATT are clear, and we expect all states to strive for these. By ratifying the ATT, states must strengthen, not weaken, their existing national policies.
As the Treaty nears entry-into-force Control Arms will continue to work with Japan and all governments to ensure the effective implementation of the treaty in order to reduce death and suffering that results from the irresponsible trade in arms.
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The United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs has just released a publication titled “Arms Trade Treaty: Signature and Ratification.” This brochure acts as a step by step guide that describes the procedures that States must follow in order to sign, ratify, accept, approve, or accede to the Arms Trade Treaty. Click here to read the full brochure.