Arms Trade Treaty could fail without human rights

Every year,more than 300,000 people are killed with conventional weapons. Millions more are injured, abused, forcibly displaced and bereaved as a result of armed violence. Many of the weapons used to commit these violations are sourced on the poorly regulated international arms market.

Amnesty International’s new report, Blood at the Crossroads: Making the case for a global Arms Trade Treaty, uses nine detailed case studies of the catastrophic human rights consequences of unrestrained arms trading.

Launched as UN member states prepare to meet in October to consider further steps to move towards negotiations on an Arms Trade Treaty, the report says that world leaders should adopt a “Golden Rule” to help protect human rights when arms are transferred between countries.

The “Golden Rule” states simply: that governments must prevent arms transfers where there is a substantial risk that they are likely to be used for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

From the ongoing conflict in Darfur, military crackdowns in Myanmar and Guinea to the proliferation of sectarian violence in Iraq, the report shows how and why the current variations and loopholes in national arms legislation allow massive violations of human rights to occur. It also demonstrates that without an effective human rights provision, a global Arms Trade Treaty could fail to protect those most vulnerable.

The report is launched during a global week of action by activists and supporters of the Control Arms Campaign. Campaigners are reminding governments that “The World is Watching”, a theme during the week of events and activities to build up pressure for an agreement on an effective Arms Trade Treaty as quickly as possible.

Worldwide support for a UN process to develop a global Arms Trade Treaty was reflected when 153 states voted in favour (1 against (US), and 24 abstained) during the General Assembly in December 2006. Then during 2007 almost 100 states submitted their views to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, proposing human rights protection as one of the top considerations.

In the run up to October’s UN discussions at the General Assembly First Committee meeting on Disarmament and Security, a few states - including China, Egypt, India, Pakistan, Russia and the US - have been attempting to block, delay and water down proposals. These attempts could make the treaty fail in its objectives and allow the continued unchecked trade in arms.

“Despite the massive green light from most of the world community, a small minority of sceptics want to keep the status quo shambles so they can turn a blind eye to blatantly irresponsible arms transfers, rendering most national arms controls and UN arms embargoes weak and ineffective,” said Brian Wood, Amnesty International’s arms control manager.

China, Russia, the US and many other nations, are highlighted in the report as trading arms to countries with well documented human rights violations.

China and Russia remain the largest suppliers of conventional arms to Sudan that are used for serious ongoing human rights violations by the Sudanese armed forces in Darfur. Russia supplied military helicopters and bomber aircraft, while China sold Sudan most of its arms and ammunition.

In Iraq, the US Department of Defense has funded most of the supply of over one million rifles, pistols and infantry weapons for 531,000 Iraqi security force personnel in a poorly managed and unaccountable process since 2003. This supply has compounded the massive proliferation of arms and gross human rights abuses that began under the former Saddam government.

The new supplies have sometimes involved dubious players in international supply chains and a lack of accountability by Iraq, US and UK governments, leading to diversions of supplies to armed groups and illicit markets.

In Myanmar, despite the persistent pattern of well documented human rights violations committed by Myanmar government forces, China, Serbia, Russia and the Ukraine have between them supplied armoured personal carriers, trucks, weapons and munitions. India has recently offered to supply more arms.

The report shows graphically how violations of the UN arms embargo continue on Cote d’Ivoire, Somalia and Darfur in Sudan because of weak national laws and lack of commitment and capacity by some governments. The failure of over 80 percent of states to establish laws to control arms brokering and arms transportation makes this problem worse.

A UN Group of Governmental Experts examined the Arms Trade Treaty from February to August 2008 and its report will be considered at the UN First Committee of the General Assembly in October.

Amnesty International and its partners are now calling for states during their discussions at General Assembly to agree in December to start a negotiating process during 2009 so that the international community can benefit from a legally-binding and universal Arms Trade Treaty by the end of 2010.

“Discussions on an Arms Trade Treaty have reached a crossroads,” says Helen Hughes, one of the researchers on the report. “Governments can either carry on ignoring the horrific consequences of irresponsible international arms transfers or they can meet their obligations in an Arms Trade Treaty with a ‘Golden Rule’ on human rights that will actually help save people’s lives and protect their livelihoods.”

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