Legal vacuum shows need for robust global arms trade agreement

Published: 20th January 2011

Viktor Bout pre-trial opens in New York

Viktor Bout was able to operate freely for decades because of lack of any internationally-binding rules

New York: Arms traffickers can too easily navigate the patchwork of national arms regulations, fuelling conflict while avoiding arrest and extradition, because of the lack of global regulation of the arms trade, says international agency Oxfam

The agency says the case against alleged arms trafficker Viktor Bout shows why international rules on arms trading are so desperately needed.

A Russian citizen, Mr Bout’s pre-trial opens in New York on Friday (21 January). He is alleged to have sold arms and ammunition for nearly 20 years into some of the world's worst war zones including Afghanistan, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sudan.

Oxfam, which is campaigning for a global deal to regulate the arms trade, says that international law should make it clear that no country can allow the kind of arms brokering activities Mr Bout is accused of, selling arms that perpetuate terrorism and contribute to violations of international human rights and international law.

"Regardless of whether Viktor Bout is found guilty or not, the need for global rules on arms trade has never been greater. Despite numerous accusations, there has been no mechanism to stop him carrying out these activities,” said Oistein Thorsen, Oxfam humanitarian campaigner in New York.

Unscrupulous arms traders are experts at exploiting these legal loopholes - and without a binding treaty that regulates the global arms trade, we're just making it too easy for them to continue to do so. Even if one arms dealer faces trial, there are still dozens operating freely in this grey area of international law."

Oxfam says that a robust international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) which is now being negotiated at the United Nations would finally put an end to the legal vacuum that arms traffickers are thriving within.

Oistein Thorsen: "How can we have strict international laws that regulate the trade of bananas and iPods, but allow traders of deadly weapons to go unchecked? We need a set of laws that would hold every actor involved in trading of arms - from the exporter, to the broker to the end-user - accountable to the same high standards.”

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Regardless of whether Viktor Bout is found guilty or not, the need for global rules on arms trade has never been greater.
Oistein Thorsen
Oxfam Humanitarian Campaigner

Notes to editors

  • There is no comprehensive legally-binding treaty on the arms trade.
  • To date, only about 60 countries have established some kind of national legislation on arms brokering.
  • This means that even if the actions of arms dealers are illegal under US law for instance, they can avoid arrest and extradition by carefully operating in the grey areas between other national jurisdictions.

Contact information

Louis Belanger, Oxfam media Officer on +1 917 224 0834,