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.

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