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Legal vacuum of 20 years shows need for robust global arms trade agreement – Bout was able to operate freely for lack of any international binding rules
Arms traffickers can too easily navigate the patchwork of national arms regulations, fuelling conflict while avoiding arrest and extradition, because countries have been too weak or reluctant to pass an international arms trade treaty, says international agency Oxfam.
Oxfam says the case this week against alleged arms trafficker Viktor Bout showed why international rules on arms trading are so desperately needed. Bout 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 the Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sudan.
He was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and was extradited this week to stand trial in the US, after two years of legal wrangling for conspiring to provide weapons in support of terrorist groups.
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 violate human rights and international law.
There are no comprehensive international legally-binding rules on 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 like Bout are illegal under US law for instance, they can avoid arrest and extradition by carefully operating in the grey areas between different national jurisdictions.
“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, countries have been unable for over 20 years to bring him to justice. Arms traders are experts at exploiting these legal loopholes – and without a binding treaty that regulate global arms trade, we’re just making it too easy for them to continue to do so,” said Scott Stedjan, spokesman for Oxfam’s Control Arms campaign.
“How can we have strict national and international laws that regulate the trade of bananas and mobile phones, but allow traders of weapons and ammunitions to go unchecked?
“We need a set of rules 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. Let’s plug the holes in the patchy international system of arms trade.”
Oxfam says that a robust international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) would finally put an end to the legal vacuum that arms traffickers are thriving within.
Notes to editors
According to the Small Arms Survey, more than 740,000 people die each year as a result of the violence associated with armed conflicts and large- and small-scale criminality.
Louis Belanger, Oxfam Media Officer in New York on +1 917 224 0834 or firstname.lastname@example.org