Control Arms launch Trafalgar Square - Grave stones plus Nelson's column. Credit: Crispin Hughes/Oxfam
The world cannot afford to wait any longer for a global arms treaty

Talks for an arms trade deal going at snail’s pace as figures show over 2,000 die per day from armed violence

“We must change the current system where there is no effective global control on the arms trade, and where unscrupulous arms dealers can too easily send weapons to the world’s worst conflict zones.”
Jeremy Hobbs
Executive Director, Oxfam International
Published: 7 October 2009

Oxfam and a coalition of NGOs reveal death toll reaches 2.1 million in three years of talks about talks – issue urgent call to launch negotiations on arms trade treaty

Talks to establish an effective international treaty on the trade in conventional arms are going at a snail’s pace because of self interest and delaying tactics by some major arms exporters, warned international agency Oxfam today. This diplomatic wrangling is taking place ahead of crucial UN talks this month and as figures show that tens of thousands continue to suffer from armed violence worldwide.

In a report published today entitled “Dying for Action”, Oxfam and 11 other NGOs who support the international Control Arms campaign, show that some 2.1 million people have died either directly or indirectly as a result of armed violence since governments agreed in 2006 on the need to regulate the arms trade. This is the equivalent of more than 2,000 people per day – worse than one person killed each minute.

Governments are meeting this month at the United Nations in New York in a make-or-break debate to decide whether to officially kick start formal negotiations on creating an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Oxfam said that the world cannot afford to wait any longer and that a Treaty must be concluded before the end of 2012 at the latest. A robust treaty could limit the flow of weapons and ammunition and prevent arms deals that fuel poverty, conflict, armed crime and abuse of human rights.

“Armed violence costs 2,000 lives every single day. Eight out of every ten governments want to get an Arms Trade Treaty agreed and ordinary citizens are calling for one too. This month we need the majority of enlightened countries at the UN to make it happen. An intransigent few cannot be allowed to keep their foot on the brakes forever,” said Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director of Oxfam International.

Hobbs: “More than trade in any other item, politicians must do all they can to make sure we control the flows of arms and weapons. We must change the current system where there is no effective global control on the arms trade, and where unscrupulous arms dealers can too easily send weapons to the world’s worst conflict zones.”

Among the 2.1 million deaths – overwhelmingly of civilians – more than 700,000 have been caused by the direct and indirect impact of armed conflicts, including those in Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, and Sri Lanka, the reports says. This year the world’s deadliest war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) worsened, which pushed numbers further up.

The report cites several instances where governments have shown the political will to move quickly and effectively when they want. For instance, the Convention on Cluster Munitions took less than two years to complete. It took just 17 days after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 for all states to freeze the financial assets of anyone connected with terrorism.

Jan Egeland, the former UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, who wrote the Foreword to the report said:

“Even though there has been a marked decline in wars since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the number of violent attacks against civilians has continued at intolerable levels. Only a forceful, unambiguous and verifiable convention can control transfers and do away with the networks of illegal arms brokers that supply our generation's weapons of mass killings and mass misery.”

Oxfam and its allies say that an effective treaty would not impede a state’s right to acquire arms to be used for legitimate self-defense and law enforcement purposes. The group is calling for all international arms transfers to be authorized based on criteria centered on international human rights law, International Humanitarian Law and sustainable development.

“We need a robust treaty that would make it harder for any war lords to obtain new arms and ammunition. Dangerous arms deals like recent deals with Chad, Zimbabwe or Libya should be avoided as thousands of weapons can end up in the wrong hands. In all these cases, the sale of arms should have never been authorized,” said Oxfam’s Hobbs.

Download the report: Dying for Action: Decision time for an urgent, effective Arms Trade Treaty

Notes to Editors

Oxfam International is part of the Control Arms campaign, an international movement of non-governmental organizations working for effective global regulation of the arms trade. The report is published with the support of Asociacion para Políticas Públicas, Africa Peace Forum, Control Arms Foundation of India, Instituto Sou Da Paz, Non-Violence International, Norwegian Church Aid, Norwegian Forum for Environment and Development, Saferworld, the Schweitzer Institute, Swedish Fellowship of Reconciliation, and WINAD.