Political will is required to come forward in support of the Arms Trade Treaty.
Over 1,000 people are killed every day by arms. Eight million small arms and light weapons are produced every year. Each year at least a third of a million people are killed directly with conventional weapons and many more are injured, abused, forcibly displaced and bereaved as a result of armed violence. Based on an evaluation of the value of total exports for 2005-07, as officially reported by the authorities of each country, listed for deliveries of all military equipm ent and services, the top 10 arm exporters in the world — USA, U.K., Russian Federation, Israel, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Spain — value for $72,917 million. To date only about 40 states have enacted laws and regulations for controlling the business of arms brokering, including or excluding related financial and transport services, and extra-territorial provisions.
Anybody would suggest in such a situation that states should reduce and regulate arms trade. Governments must prevent arms transfer, especially where there are substantial risks that they are likely to be used for serious violations of human rights. People, tired and fearful of terror-counter terror, insurgency-counter insurgency, armed and violent groups, would like to immediately go for reducing the risk of diversion of arms to unauthorised users, unlawful use of arms, and for minimising the risk of loopholes and weakness being exploited by unscrupulous arms dealers. Arms trading is a multi-billion dollar industry globally. Seeing the range of politico-geographical circumstances, both of armed conflicts and repressive situations, and reflecting on the current weakness and loopholes in the poorly regulated arms trade, and its horrific consequences on human rights, a more informed opinion would suggest that a global problem requires a global solution.
In fact, this is what has been happening since the beginning of October 2003: A new Control Arms campaign had gathered the support of over one million people worldwide. It is in the form of a popular Million Faces Petition, calling for a global, legally binding agreement, an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), to ease the suffering caused by irresponsible transfers of conventional weapons and munitions. Escalating global wars propelled by the arms trade industry, and increasing realisation about how U.N. arms embargo violations continue in Somalia and Darfur because of loopholes in national laws and lack of commitment and capacity by some governments, has made the campaign fast forward. Fifteen Nobel Peace Prize laureates, including Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu and Oscar Arias, have called on governments to work for a treaty, in order to stop irresponsible arms exports “which are causing the peoples of the world so much pain and destruction.” A substantial number of parliamentarians from African countries came out in support of an international treaty. Thus a historic vote at the U.N. General Assembly in December 2006 saw 153 governments vote for a resolution to start working towards a global arms trade treaty. The following year, over 100 states submitted responses to the U.N. Secretary-General’s consultation on the proposed treaty, one of the rare success stories of civil society organisations in recent years!
The proposed treaty would be incorporated into the national law and regulations of every ratifying nation, and reinforced through rules of regular public reporting. Consequently, it would be illegal for any supplier government to ignore the treaty’s criteria, when supplying arms. Any decisions that break the terms of the treaty could then be challenged and potentially overturned in the national courts. Under the proposed treaty, governments would be required to report their arms transfers in an open and transparent way, which would lead to greater public and parliamentary scrutiny.
However, this is what some countries, deeply involved in the arms trade, do not want. The USA was the only state to vote against the 2006 U.N. vote in favour of working towards a treaty. There were 24 abstentions, including China, India, Israel, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Zimbabwe. In the run-up to the crucial October U.N. discussion to concretise moving towards negotiations on ATT, a few states, including China, India, Egypt, Pakistan, Russia and the USA, are attempting to block, delay and water down proposals and thus make the treat defunct, which would allow continued unchecked trade in arms.
Look at the case of Iraq. Prior to the 2003 invasion which overthrew Saddam Hussein, there were an estimated 15 million small arms and light weapons in Iraq, mainly AK-47 assault rifles, circulating among a population of about 25 million. Since the invasion, the new authorities in Iraq have agreed contracts with the USA and its partners to import at least 1 million infantry weapons and pistols with ammunition, as well as other munitions and military equipment. Amnesty International has identified 47 U.S. Department of Defence contracts, dating between 2003 and 2007, for the procurement of small arms, light weapons and associated equipment for the Iraqi security forces. These contracts comprise at least 115 delivery orders to Iraq, totalling almost $217 million. Many of these imported weapons remain unaccounted for. Stocks have been diverted to, and captured by, armed groups, militia and individuals. There is no clear U.S. audit trail for approximately 370,000 infantry weapons supplied to the Iraqi security forces. An arms trade treaty could address this, by setting out common provisions that require states to establish effective, accountable and transparent systems for all international arms transfers.
In our neighbourhood, we have witnessed arms supplies to Myanmar. Further, China, Serbia, Russia and Ukraine have between them supplied armoured personal carriers, military trucks, military weapons and munitions that have crushed people’s movements for democracy. India has also at times offered to supply more arms, despite persistent patterns of human rights violations committed by the Myanmar forces. India worst affected
India has been one of the worst affected countries due to the illicit and irresponsible transfer of arms, weapons and explosives, and its use by non-state terror groups. It had been supportive of the idea of an arms trade treaty and international arms registry in early 2000. However, its present response is that “it is premature to begin work on a comprehensive, legally binding instrument establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms. India encourages the United Nations and Member States to continue the process of consultations and consensus building on the issue of conventional weapons transfers. Regional efforts could be encouraged as part of this process so as to act as building blocks for an eventual international effort” (Government of India’s response to the U.N.). This is an argument primarily to maintain the status quo, business as usual. Huge illegal, irresponsible arms transfers will continue, rendering arms control and embargoes weak and ineffective.
It is also disturbing that while opposing the idea of ATT, the Indian government is underlining “the right to self defence…. This right also implies that states enjoy the right to engage in trade of arms, including export to another country.” India has not been a big arms exporter country, and like in economic and political spheres, it must not develop an aspiration to follow the big global arms leaders like the USA and China.
Globalisation is changing the way in which arms trade is carried out. Arms companies, operating from an increasing number of locations, now source components from across the world. Their products are often assembled in countries with lax controls on where they end up. Too easily, weapons and munitions get into totally irresponsible hands. State-to-state transfers, state-to-private end-user transfers, commercial sales, leases, loans, gifts or surpluses, imports, exports, re-exports, temporary transfers, transits, trans-shipments, re-transfers — all should be publicly scrutinised, and legally accountable.
In today’s world, there is a grave need for enforceable multilateral and global restraints to reduce the arms trade, as it is a direct impediment to the achievement of peace and international security. It requires a political will to come forward in support of the treaty, as in the absence of it, we will be confronted with more arms race and an increasing global arms trade, without regard to its long-term consequences.
(Mukul Sharma is the Director of Amnesty International in India.)