Washington, D.C. –The patchwork of laws governing the cross-border trade in weapons creates serious challenges for US government agencies trying to stop the activities of irresponsible arms brokers, according to findings from Beyond Viktor Bout: Why the US needs an Arms Trade Treaty-- a new report published today by international agency Oxfam.
Launched as the trial of alleged arms dealer Viktor Bout gets underway next week in New York City, the Oxfam report urges the United States and governments around the world to embrace an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) that will be negotiated at the United Nations in New York this summer. While there have been significant improvements in the last 10 years of countries strengthening their own national laws when it comes to the transfer of arms, many still have weak, ineffective or no regulations. The Arms Trade Treaty will help create global rules requiring countries to regulate the export and import of weapons.
“For too long, innocent people around the world have become victims of atrocious acts of violence because there are no international laws governing the trade of weapons,” said Scott Stedjan, senior policy advisor for Oxfam America. “If countries live up to their promises, the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) would change that by requiring countries to adopt national laws designed to keep weapons out of the hands of terrorists, war criminals and gross violators of human rights.”
In the last 15 years, private arms brokers have funneled arms to almost every country under a UN arms embargo, providing weapons and military assistance to government or rebel forces in countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas. Many arms brokers escape justice by operating in and out of countries with lax controls on the export, import, brokering, or transit of weapons. In fact, of the 70 prosecutions initiated by the US Justice Department for arms brokering related crimes in the last five years, 16 individuals remain listed as fugitives or “at large.”
Though weak national laws made it difficult for many countries to apprehend Bout, the inconsistencies from country to country made it even easier for Bout to operate. For example, Bout’s planes operated out of Belgium’s Ostend Airport, but local authorities could not arrest him because the weapons involved in the transfers never touched Belgium soil and the planes he used were registered in Liberia.
The report finds that only 52 governments have laws regulating arms brokers and of that less than half of these have criminal or monetary penalties associated with illegal brokering. Unless more countries adopt rigorous standards and regulations, it will make it extremely difficult for the United States and other countries to stop illegal arms brokering.
“Illegal arms dealers are skillful at operating in the dark shadows and exploiting the inconsistencies within the global regulatory framework of the international arms trade,” said Adm. Stuart Franklin Platt, a retired US Navy Rear Admiral appointed by the Reagan administration to oversee Navy procurement and who has spent the last two decades as a business executive in the defense and technology sectors. “It’s now time to close the loopholes that allow evil warlords and terrorists to buy weapons, ammunition and military components that can be used against our uniformed service men and women and innocent people around the globe.”
A lack of global rules also makes it difficult for the US government to arrest or extradite individuals charged with violating US arms control laws in a foreign country that does not regulate small arms, ammunition, firearm parts and components. Out of the 70 cases prosecuted by the US Justice Department, 31 have involved the trafficking of small arms or related ammunition and components, making it the most common type of arms involved in such US prosecutions.
“The ATT is in our moral and security interests, representing an uncomplicated and attainable win for our country and the world,” said Galen Carey, vice president of Government Relations with the National Association of Evangelicals. “Christians in America and around the world call on our leaders to negotiate a treaty that will prevent weapons from being shipped to terrorists and warlords, causing unimaginable suffering around the world.”