International Human Rights Day sees UK Fall Behind on Arms Control

Against this daily death toll, the political leaders of Brazil, Cambodia, Mali, Macedonia, Costa Rica, Finland and the Netherlands have all pledged their support for an international Arms Treaty. This landmark announcement comes just two months after the Control Arms campaign was launched by Amnesty International, Oxfam and the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA). Britain, the world's second largest arms exporter, has often boasted of its 'tough' export controls but has not yet backed the Arms Treaty.

Since the launch of the Control Arms campaign on 9 October 2003, thousands of people across the UK have added their faces to the Million Faces Petition, calling on the British government to back the Arms Treaty.

British celebrities including Emma Thompson, Dido, Liberty X, Daniel Bedingfield, Joe Fiennes, Jamie Theakston, Frank Skinner, Skin, Harvey, John Hannah, Helen Baxendale and Beverly Knight have signed up to the campaign. Politicians are also coming on board with dozens of MPs backing the treaty and Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrats, choosing Human Rights Day to announce his support for the treaty.

Charles Kennedy said: 'The Arms is potentially the most deadly trade in the world; it is vital that there should be binding international regulation. If, as a nation, we are serious about protecting human rights and working for peace, then Britain should back an Arms Treaty. This is an important campaign which has the potential to save many, many lives.'

Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK said: 'The growing support for an Arms Treaty shows that governments the world over recognize the need for tougher controls on the Arms. The UK, the second largest exporter of weapons, must now follow their lead and sign up to legally binding arms control. Without such a commitment their responsibility to uphold the Universal Declaration on Human Rights can be little more than hollow words.'

Barbara Stocking, Director of Oxfam said: 'Today, fifty-five years after the declaration of human rights was signed, we're pleased to see a developing commitment to back up the declaration by controlling the weapons which are responsible for so many human rights violations. We are seeing the first vital steps towards bringing the Arms under control. Britain must not allow itself to fall behind.'

Other governments have already agreed to support the Arms Treaty. Brazil's President Lula confirmed his readiness to play a key role in pushing for an international treaty to control arms in a recent meeting with Amnesty International. This reflects his concern about human rights abuses flowing from gun violence in Brazil and the proliferation of arms in Africa. He committed himself to: '...undertake all efforts to build a network and create a positive balance in favour of arms control.'

Announcing Finland's support on Human Rights Day, Mr Erkki Tuomioja, Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs said: 'Now is the time to proceed in creating international rules for the Arms? Finland from its own part is ready to support the process towards an Arms Treaty.'

Sar Kheng, Deputy Prime Minister of Cambodia said: 'As a country that has been severely affected by weapons, Cambodia will support the international Arms Treaty. The Royal Government of Cambodia is committed to controlling weapons ? which have such a great impact on humanity, society, the economy and peace.'

Atzo Nicolaï, the Minister for European Affairs for the Netherlands, speaking on behalf of the Prime Minister, said: 'The government strives for the realisation of legally binding international agreements on export controls?over small arms and light weapons.'

Amadou Toumani Touré, President of Mali, a country that has been at the forefront of efforts to address the arms crises in west Africa, said: 'Mali is honoured to launch the Control Arms campaign and we fully support it. Mali will play its role in pushing for tougher international arms controls... across the African continent.'

Sally Joss, IANSA Network Coordinator said: 'This progress is fantastic news for people who live in fear of armed violence across the world. After decades of an explosion in arms proliferation, governments are beginning to listen to their citizens demands for change.'

Background:

Conventional arms kill more than 500,000 people every year: one person every minute. There are 639 million small arms in the world, or one for every ten people, produced by over 1,000 companies in at least 98 countries.

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