Historic arms trade negotiations a chance to prevent future Syrian-style slaughter

Published: 1st July 2012

Time to end ‘body bag’ approach to arms control and support a robust Arms Trade Treaty

New York - Political leaders have a historic opportunity to place human rights and humanitarian aims above self-interest and profit when final negotiations to regulate the global arms trade begin today at the United Nations, campaigners from across the world said.

The Control Arms Coalition, which includes Amnesty International, Oxfam and organizations from more than 125 countries, called on governments to agree a treaty with strong rules to ensure respect for international human rights and humanitarian law.

On average one person dies every minute as a result of armed violence, with thousands more abused and injured every day.

"In Syria and the Great Lakes of Africa, the world is now once again bearing witness to the horrific human cost of the reckless and overly-secret arms trade. Why should millions more people be killed and lives devastated before leaders wake up and take decisive action to properly control international arms transfers?" said Brian Wood, Amnesty International Arms Control and Human Rights Manager.

“The Arms Trade Treaty negotiations are an acid test for political leaders to face up to the reality and agree rules leading to the end of irresponsible arms transfers that fuel grave abuses of human rights.”

A failure to deliver a comprehensive Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) will result in many more millions of civilians being killed, injured, raped and forced to flee their homes as a direct result of the irresponsible and poorly regulated trade in arms.

For decades people in every region have borne the cost of the more than $60 billion arms trade which also fuels armed-conflict and violence, corruption and severely weakens progress on development.

A once-in-a-generation opportunity

"We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to truly make the world a safer place. This isn’t just any Treaty, but one that can rein in a trade that is spiralling out of control at the moment,” said Anna Macdonald, Oxfam's Head of Arms Control Campaign.

“From Congo to Libya, from Syria to Mali, all have suffered from the unregulated trade in weapons and ammunition allowing those conflicts to cause immeasurable suffering and go on far too long. In the next few weeks, diplomats will either change the world - or fail the world,” Macdonald added.

There are currently no comprehensive legally binding international rules governing the global trade in conventional arms, and gaps and loopholes are common in both national and regional controls.

Campaigners from around the world are determined to make governments put an end to the 'body bag' approach, which in some cases sees arms embargoes imposed by the UN Security Council, but even then, only after reckless arms trading has fuelled a human catastrophe.

Instead, an ATT is urgently needed that will prevent arms transfers that fuel human rights abuses, poverty and conflict.

For the Arms Trade Treaty rules to to be effective it must require governments to strictly regulate the sale and transfer of all weapons, arms, munitions and related equipment used in military and internal security operations - from armoured vehicles, missiles and aircraft through to small arms, grenades and ammunition.

Governments must be required to undertake rigorous risk assessments prior to any authorization of an international arms transfer or transaction, and publicly report on all authorizations and deliveries. Trading without permission or illegally diverting arms should be made a criminal or other offence under national laws.

Those that fail to comply with treaty obligations should be held to account.

An absurd and deadly reality

“It is an absurd and deadly reality that there are currently global rules governing the trade of fruit and dinosaur bones, but not ones for the trade of guns and tanks,” said Jeff Abramson, the Director of the Control Arms Secretariat.

“Advocates from around the world are speaking out to the media and campaigning for governments and ministers to negotiate an Arms Trade Treaty that will save lives with both strong policies and direct impact on the ground,” Abramson added.

Amnesty International has highlighted how the world's ‘Big Six' arms suppliers, - China, France, Germany, Russia, United Kingdom and USA - supply large quantities of weapons to repressive governments across the world, despite the substantial risk the arms would be used to commit serious human rights violations.  This included US arms supplies to Egypt and Bahrain. 

Oxfam recently published research showing the impact the annual global $4 billion trade in ammunition has on the poorest people in the world, particularly those living in conflict-hit or fragile states such as Afghanistan and Somalia.  

Most governments want to see a strong treaty text agreed by 27 July but some have been trying to weaken the treaty rules and definitions. The United States, China, Syria, and Egypt have recently voiced their opposition to including ammunition. China wants to exclude small arms and “gifts” while several Middle East governments oppose human rights criteria in the treaty.

People from all over the world will be increasing the pressure on their leaders to deliver a strong ATT over the coming weeks, with the negotiations expected to conclude at the end of July.

Related links

Act now: Join the call for a bullet-proof Arms Trade Treaty

Read the report: The Final Countdown: A historic opportunity to deliver an arms trade treaty that saves lives

Follow the ATT negotiations: Arms Trade Treaty monitor

Find:  All Oxfam reports related to the Arms Trade Treaty

We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to truly make the world a safer place. This isn’t just any Treaty, but one that can rein in a trade that is spiralling out of control at the moment
Anna McDonald

Notes to editors

About Control Arms:
Control Arms is a global movement that campaigns for a legally-binding Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) that will protect lives and livelihoods.

Its 90 member coalitions and organizations maintain offices in more than 125 countries. Many of these campaigners will be in New York in July to push diplomats and ministers from around the world to negotiate a robust ATT, which commits states to end transfers of arms and ammunitions that fuel conflict, poverty and serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.  www.controlarms.org

Contact information

For further information, to request an interview or briefing or to find out about campaigning events taking place throughout July please contact:

  • Control Arms Campaign –  media@controlarms.org +41 79 239 23 66
  • Amnesty International - Tom Mackey  +44 7904 398 285 tom.mackey@amnesty.org
  • Oxfam - Louis Belanger +1 917 224 0834, louis.belanger@oxfaminternational.org