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World's biggest arms traders promise global arms treaty


On Friday at the United Nations, after years of discussions and debates, the vast majority of governments agreed to a timetable to establish a “strong and robust” Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) with the “highest common standards” to control international transfers of conventional arms. There is currently no global treaty on the conventional arms trade.

Most of the world's biggest arms traders – including the USA - will now all back the UN process. Russia and China abstained from the vote on the UN resolution that moved discussions into the treaty negotiation phase but are expected to take part in the process. The Obama Administration’s decision to back the arms trade talks reverses the position of the Bush Administration who voted against the moving the UN process toward treaty negotiations multiple times. Zimbabwe was the only country to vote no on the resolution.

The Control Arms campaign – a coalition of hundreds of non-governmental organizations in more than 100 countries that has promoted the ATT - welcomed the historic breakthrough at the UN today and called on all states to negotiate a truly effective treaty. They warned that governments must keep up the momentum to ensure the final treaty has firm international standards for the global arms trade. Campaigners expressed reservations about the procedure planned for the UN conference which could give every state the right of veto over final decisions at the UN conference. They warned a small number of skeptical states must not be allowed to hijack the ATT process when it is clear the world wants a strong treaty.

“All countries participate in the conventional arms trade and share responsibility for the ‘collateral damage’ it produces – widespread death, injuries and human rights abuses,” said Rebecca Peters, director of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA). “Now, finally, governments have agreed to negotiate legally binding global controls on this deadly trade.”

The agreement in the UN today means that the eventual ATT will be negotiated in a series of UN meetings concluding at a UN conference in 2012.

“The Arms Trade Treaty needs a ‘golden rule’ requiring governments to stop any proposed arms transfer that poses a substantial risk of being used for serious violations of human rights or war crimes,” said Brian Wood, Amnesty International's head of arms control. “Such a golden rule could save hundreds of thousands of lives and protect the livelihoods of many millions.”

The resolution on the ATT also highlights the issue of international arms transfers contributing to armed conflict, displacement of people, organized crime and terrorism, thereby undermining peace, safety, security and sustainable development.

“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.” said Anna Macdonald of Oxfam International. “Governments must ensure that negotiations live up to the promise of setting the highest possible standards - this is a life and death situation for thousands of poor people worldwide.”

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