World’s biggest arms traders promise global Arms Trade Treaty

At the end of October, after years of discussions and debates at the United Nations, the vast majority of governments – 153 in total – agreed a timetable to establish a “strong and robust” global Arms Trade Treaty with the “highest common standards” to control international transfers of conventional arms.

Most of the world’s biggest arms traders – including the USA, UK, France and Germany – now back the UN process. Nineteen states abstained* but are all expected to take part in the process. Zimbabwe was the only State to vote against it.

Much of the credit for this historic shift should go to the millions of people across the world who took part in the Control Arms campaign calling for a strong and robust Treaty to stop the deadly flow of weapons across borders.

The agreement means that the Arms Trade Treaty will be negotiated in a series of UN meetings concluding at a UN Conference in 2012. The resolution also highlights the issue of international arms transfers contributing to armed conflict, displacement of people, human rights abuses, organised crime and terrorism, thereby undermining peace, safety, security and sustainable development.

These were all issues that campaigners had wanted to be included – now we go into the next two years needing to keep the pressure up to ensure we have a strong and robust treaty that can save lives.

We are concerned about the procedure planned for the final UN Conference that could give every State the right of veto over the Treaty. This rule change – demanded by the USA – means a small number of sceptical states could be allowed to hijack the Treaty process when it is clear the world wants a strong treaty.

For too long, governments have let the flow of weapons get out of control causing pain, suffering and death in some of the world’s poorest regions. With hundreds of thousands of people dying a year from armed violence, weapons that fall into the hands of criminals and rights abusers destroy communities and livelihoods. This shift to starting serious work on developing a Treaty should help to stop this flood.

* The States that abstained were: Bahrain, Belarus, China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Iran, Kuwait, Libya, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, UAE, Venezuela and Yemen.

Read more about Oxfam's Control Arms Campaign.

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