A 10 year campaign for an Arms Trade Teaty: Now it's #TimetoSign

Anna Macdonald, Oxfam's Head of Arms Control, gave this speech at the UK's Foreign Commonwealth Office Arms Trade Treaty Reception (15 May 2013), to celebrate ten years of Control Arms Campaigning which culminated with the UN's 2 April 2013 vote in favor of a global arms trade treaty.

10 years ago I stood down the road in Trafalgar Square, with many others who are here tonight, to launch the Control Arms campaign. Our message was simple: the arms trade is out of control and ordinary people around the world are suffering at the rate of one death every minute, with millions more forced from their homes, suffering abuse and impoverishment.

We had an idea. We had a vision. A global treaty to bring the conventional arms trade under control. To make governments take responsibility for every arms transfer that enters or leaves their territory. And to put human rights and humanitarian law, not profit, at the heart of every decision.

It’s a big thing, getting a treaty. It’s a very big thing.

And its been a long road to get here. But here we are – 10 years on and with an Arms Trade Treaty adopted at the UN by overwhelming majority vote. It’s a success for us all.

Often in a campaign you have to go through the stage where your ideas are seen as ridiculous. When progress seems agonizingly slow, and change is measured in the tiny steps of a public statement here, a positive meeting there, until you get a breakthrough, momentum builds up and things start to roll.

There have been many stages in this process since work started in the UN in 2006, and we’ve kept the pressure on throughout – UN consultations, open-ended working groups, groups of government experts, preparatory committees, regional meetings, resolutions every year at the General Assembly to move things forward. We’ve driven tanks round London, ridden elephants in India and rowed dragon boats in Cambodia to raise awareness. We’ve run workshops and seminars in 100 countries to deepen knowledge and explore ideas. We’ve given media interviews and written articles to communicate. And we’ve analysed papers, proposed treaty text, and negotiated hours into the night to turn a weak text into a stronger text.

The world has come together and said “Enough!”.

To unscrupulous arms dealers, dictators and human rights abusers, we have a clear message. Your days of easy access to weapons and ammunition are over. The world is watching, and the world will hold you to account.

The most powerful argument for the ATT has always been the call of the millions who have suffered from armed violence around the world. And every day right now Syria's brutal conflict - which has killed over 70,000 so far - reminds us of the urgent need to control arms.

So now we have the words on the paper. We need the action on the ground.

It is incumbent on all the governments here tonight, and the many others who voted yes, to sign and ratify the treaty as soon as possible. When the ATT opens for signature at the Signing Ceremony on 3 June in New York, it will be an important start for the treaty. There must be many governments there to sign, and at the most senior level possible. You must show that you are serious about making this treaty work effectively. 50 ratifications are needed for the treaty to enter into force. We can do this in less than two years, if we all make it a priority.

Working in partnership with government is not always easy – for NGOs or governments – but this has been an important part of progress on this treaty, without which we would not have had success. 

I would like to thank the many officials who worked with us to secure the strongest possible treaty, it has been a relay race with many contributors and from the UK we recognize those who started the process at the UN, those who helped close the deal, and those who were there throughout.

Change does not happen only in the UN or parliaments. Change happens when we work together on a shared goal and put aside our differences for a common good. Change happens from workplaces, from schools, from universities, and from our own homes, when we refuse to take no for an answer, and keep going. Because when there is an idea worth fighting for, then set-backs along the way are not defeat, and differences in opinion are opportunities to build from.

So for anyone who doubts that campaigning works and achieves change, let tonight be the evidence you need. Every one of you here tonight is extraordinary. Because you took that challenge and did not give up. Whether you were in the UN negotiating, lobbying your government back home, talking to the media, responding to another campaign request, sending a tweet, writing an egram, you played your part. This has been a global movement.

For all the frustrations and challenges, the eleventh-hour negotiation that falls apart, the policy line that it its impossible to get right, and the never-ending speeches of the detractors – for all that, you have immense power.

You made this happen. This is your victory. Tonight is your night.

To all my colleagues in the Control Arms Coalition – thank you for all you have done. Thank you for believing and sticking with it, and for the passion in your heart and the fire in your belly, and the tenacity in your veins because that is what changes the world, and that is why we have turned this idea, this ideal, into something that might just help change the world.

Thank you for making this happen.

Watch Anna's speech (at around 17 minutes into the video):

Control Arms at the Foreign Office from Amnesty International

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