Dont let the gunrunners win the arms control race

Having worked at Amnesty for a few years now, I’ve got used to the fact that the train of ‘international human rights treaty-formation’ chugs at what I think is a rather slow pace.

I recall when I first joined Amnesty the excitement felt around the office at the fact that most of the world’s leaders had agreed in principle to creating an international Arms Trade Treaty – an international legally-binding piece of legislation which would stem the flow of weapons and munitions making their way to regions where human rights violations persist.  At the time, Amnesty had been campaigning for this treaty for several years.

Then, in 2006, more than 130 states voted ‘yes’ to developing an Arms Trade Treaty, with just the United States voting ‘no’ (a few others abstained).

Today nearly four years later and the US (just about) on board, the first round of formal discussions about the Treaty’s content are due to begin.  Three other formal discussions are timetabled for 2011 and 2012 so there remains a long way to go.

As negotiations begin, a new Amnesty report out today shows how lax arms controls are still enabling weapons to reach volatile areas where bloody conflicts rage and other human rights abuses continue.

Deadly Movements’ highlights how transport companies registered in countries, including the UK, are able to move conventional weapons and munitions to where they could be used to commit human rights violations and war crimes.   

For example, the report describes how deliveries of cluster munitions and their components on ships registered in the UK, and managed by UK and German shipping companies were transported from South Korea to Pakistan between March 2008 and February 2010 for use by the country’s army. These deliveries took place despite the UK and Germany having committed to comprehensively ban the transfer and use of cluster munitions.

Other examples include how a passenger flight (Air France) was used to transfer weapons from Bulgaria to Charles de Gaulle airport with their end destination being Kigali – Rwanda’s capital.

Political will is being overtaken by practical realities as clearly gunrunners are outpacing the ‘treaty train’.  In which case, shouldn’t the train speed up its pace?  

If the train must chug at that pace however, then every effort must be made by the governments in discussion to ensure that a robust agreement is developed, one which contains the highest possible common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms.  

And an agreement where the gunrunners are no longer the real winners.  

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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