Arms embargoes: better late than never, but why not do it right?

The UN Security Council, so often criticised for putting politics before principles and failing to take decisive action, has done the right thing by imposing a strong arms embargo on Libya. Sales and transfers of a wide range of weapons, ammunition and other equipment are now banned.

It’s too late, of course – Colonel Gadaffi already has the teargas to choke peaceful protesters and the guns and ammo with which to shoot them. But it was the right thing to do and does send a strong message from the international community.

Contrast this with Belarus, who have today been criticised by the UN Secretary General for breaking the UN arms embargo against the Ivory Coast, reportedly shipping helicopter gunships on Sunday to President Laurent Gbagbo, who still refuses to hand over power to Alassane Ouattara, widely seen by the international community as the winner of the country’s presidential election last November.
Both stories illustrate the need for tougher rules governing global arms sales.

There’s been a whole series of stories recently about UK-sold weapons and policing equipment being used to abuse peaceful protesters in the middle east. It’s safe the say that the UK isn’t the only country to have happily notched up tidy profits while disregarding Amnesty’s reports on their customers’ human rights abuses.
Delegates are meeting at the UN this week to resume negotiations on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), a legally-binding treaty to regulate the global arms trade. There has seldom been a time when the need for an ATT has been more clearly illustrated, in stories on the TV news each day.

Yet there are currently no comprehensive, legally binding international rules governing the trade in conventional arms. Loopholes in regional and national controls allow guns, bullets, tanks, missiles and rockets to end up in the hands of war criminals and human rights abusers. UK Defence secretary Liam Fox announced today that the UK’s own policy on arms sales is currently under review.

My colleague Oliver Sprague is in New York, lobbying to try and get a robust treaty that will actually do what it needs to – stop people selling weapons to those who would use them to commit human rights abusers. All weapons, munitions and equipment – from armoured vehicles, missiles and aircraft through to small arms, grenades and ammo – for use by military, police and internal security forces must be covered if the Treaty is to be effective.

We’re worried that some states will try to water-down the treaty.  I’d like to see them explain their reasoning to the Libyan civilians who have faced down bullets and teargas to peacefully demand their basic human rights.

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