Peace laureates and activists call on governments to champion control of the arms trade (open letter)

Published: 16 March 2006

SIR: Today, millions of people around the world are living in fear of armed violence. They have good reason to be afraid. Most victims of armed violence are not uniformed soldiers, nor even fighters, but ordinary men, women and children.

And from the slums of Rio to the bloody conflict in the Congo, the most common weapon used to kill, maim, rape and terrorize innocent people is the gun.

Yet, unlike weapons of mass destruction, the proliferation of guns, and other conventional arms, is dangerously unregulated.

The right of countries to national defence is clear. But countries also have a responsibility to make sure that arms they buy or sell are not used to commit human rights abuses or to undermine development.

In 2006, the world can make the first step towards bringing the arms trade under control, by starting negotiations on an international Arms Trade Treaty.

This treaty would ban all arms sales where there is a clear risk that those weapons will be used to break international law.

What we are calling for is not revolutionary. It simply consolidates countries' existing and emerging obligations under international law into a universal standard for arms sales. But it has the power to save hundreds of thousands of lives around the world. Over 45 countries have already given their support.

In 100 days time, UN member states will meet in New York for the second world conference on small arms. We call on all governments to champion global controls on the small arms trade at that meeting.

If this is achieved, negotiations on an Arms Trade Treaty could start later this year. If it is not, irresponsible arms sales will continue to fuel suffering and poverty around the world.

Signatories:

  • Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Nobel Peace Laureate)

  • Dr Oscar Arias (Nobel Peace Laureate)

  • Jody Williams (Nobel Peace Laureate)

  • The Albert Schweitzer Institute (Nobel Peace Laureate)

  • Mary Robinson (Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights)

  • Lt. General Romeo Dallaire (Former Commander of UN Forces in Rwanda)

  • Arundhati Roy (Author and Activist)