The first draft of the new United Nations' (UN) arms trade treaty has not won over international aid groups. The planned treaty will provide more regulation of the $60 billion worldwide arms trade industry.
The US had voted “nay” to the idea of a treaty to take on the industry in years past, but the decision was reversed by President Obama in 2009. However, by condition of the US, the treaty may only be adopted with consensus among all 193 UN members—a challenging prospect, for some.
The International Committee of the Red Crescent, (ICRC), Oxfam, the Conflict Awareness Project, the Arms Control Association and Amnesty International USA have all expressed reservations about the treaty’s effectiveness. Though, the latter two agree that crucial changes could improve the treaty’s effectiveness. Such improvements could translate into lives saved.
The ICRC remains concerned about “loopholes,” that would simply perpetuate the status quo, reports the Washington Post. Oxfam appears to agree, with one official calling the agreement a “leaky bucket” when it comes to keeping arms out of the grasp of warlords or perpetrators of human rights violations.
According to the Small Arms Survey, a project of the Geneva-based Graduate Institute for International and Development Studies, armed violence claims the lives of 740,000 people each year. The United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia are the world’s biggest arms traders, Reuters reports.
The International Arms Trade Treaty is a chance to regulate some of the weapons that needlessly claim innocent lives every day. The principles of the draft treaty note five critical messages:
- States’ right to self-defense;
- The peaceful settlement of disputes;
- States’ responsibility to abide by international human rights and humanitarian law;
- States’ responsibility to “effectively regulate and control international transfer of conventional arms . . . [and implement] national export control systems”;
- The need to implement the treaty in a “universal, objective and non-discriminatory manner.”
A list of eight conventional arms items that would be covered by the treaty’s provisions is provided among the main provisions. Among them are small arms and light weapons.
Arms activists have called for ammunition, among other arms, to be added to the list. More rigorous risk-assessments informing arms transfers are needed, too, said Oxfam’s head of arms control, Anna MacDonald. The entire arms trade and not just illicit trade should be covered she added (Reuters).
One group of stakeholders the world cannot forget are the 250,000-300,000 child soldiers who have lost their right to childhood.
The link between small arms and child soldiers has been well established. It is particularly the growth and distribution of these weapons between 1970 and 2000 that has fuelled the global phenomenon as we know it today, the UN has reported in the past. A simple weapon may cost as little as $5 in the developing world, where children are plentiful and are able to master the functions of the pervasive AK-47 in less than an hour.
When conflict strikes, most of the casualties are due to lightweight and easy-to-use small arms and weapons. Such deadly devices find their way into the arms of child soldiers and tend not to disappear when the conflict is over. Still in circulation, these weapons turn up in children’s communities—among gangs, former rebels, homes or elsewhere—and they perpetuate a “culture of violence.”
The preamble of the draft treaty mentions children. Particularly, it is “bearing in mind that the women and children are particularly affected in situations of conflict and armed violence.”
Article five calls on arms-exporting states to take all feasible measures—including international cooperation—to avoid transferring arms to be used to “commit or facilitate gender-based violence or violence against children.”
According to a report by South Africa's Institute for Security Studies, small arms, light weapons and ammunition are among the main tools of violence in African countries. The African continent is also home to roughly one third of all child soldiers, said the UN's children in armed conflict envoy, Radhika Coomaraswamy.
International delegates are scheduled to meet and take decisive action on the treaty on Friday. Hopefully, these actions will take steps toward keeping guns out of the hands of children.