UK: Campaigners welcome Straw commitment on Arms Treaty and urge swift action

Jack Straw confirmed the UK government's commitment to work for an international Arms Treaty.

"I announced last September that the UK would work for such a treaty. I want to set out today some more detailed ideas of the way ahead. Just because agreeing a new treaty will be difficult does not mean that we should be discouraged from starting work."

Today’s statement is an important step forward for the Control Arms Campaign and confirms the government's commitment, expressed in the Africa Commission's Report, to open negotiations on an international Arms Treaty as a matter of priority.

The campaign urges the government to move quickly and use its unique position, as the president of the G8 this July, to do everything in its power to get an international treaty on political agenda and to make the most of the opportunities offered by the UN programme of action on small arms and light weapons.

Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Stephen Bowen said:

"Jack Straw’s support for an Arms Treaty is welcome news for the Control Arms campaign and welcome news for human rights.

"The UK government must now show global leadership and carry through its commitment at the G8. It must urge other countries to see the desperate need for a legally-binding treaty that stops weapons being sold to people who persecute, torture and massacre.

"And it should press hard to make the treaty a reality. We need action now – every day more lives are lost to armed violence."

Simon Gray, Oxfam's Conflict Campaign Manager said:

"Today could be a turning point for millions of people who live in fear of armed violence. The UK, the second largest exporter of weapons, is setting a great example showing strong support for a legally-binding International Arms Treaty.

"Governments across the world must follow this lead. An international consensus is vital to keep weapons out of the wrong hands and protect people from armed violence."

Rebecca Peters, IANSA Network Director said:

"This progress is positive news for people who live in fear of armed violence across the world. After decades of arms proliferation, governments are beginning to listen to their citizen's demands for change. It is now incumbent on states to move forward to secure the treaty."

Amnesty International, Oxfam and IANSA (International Action Network on Small Arms) launched the global Control Arms campaign in September 2003 calling for a legally-binding, international Arms Treaty to help stop weapons being sold to those who openly flaunt international human rights and humanitarian laws. There are currently almost no legally binding international arms export controls in existence.

Since its launch the campaign has been gathering momentum and already has support from hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. The political leaders of countries such as Brazil, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Finland, Kenya, Mali, Mexico, and Spain have already indicated potential support for an international Arms Treaty.

However, since its launch, an estimated 750,000 people have lost their lives and countless more have lives have been ruined due to armed violence.

Background

Conventional arms kill hundreds of thousands of people every year. 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.

Amnesty International, Oxfam and IANSA are calling for an International Arms Treaty to introduce legally-binding standards to control the supply of weapons around the globe.

The campaign aims to ensure that arms are not sold, by any country, to places where they are likely to fuel conflict and instability or be used to commit human rights abuses.

The Africa Commission recommended:

"As a matter of priority and no later than 2006, the international community should open negotiations on an international Arms Treaty (ATT)"

The report of the UN Secretary General's High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change (2004) recommends that Member States should enter negotiations on legally binding agreements on the transfer of small arms and light arms.

At a meeting called by the Tanzanian Government in Dar es Salaam (20-22 Feb 2005), representatives of 31 governments had agreed that:

"As a minimum, states must ensure that all transfers should consider the risk that exported arms might be used in the commission of serious violations of human rights or international humanitarian law, including the risk that such arms might be diverted into the wrong hands such as terrorists; and that may affect regional and/or internal security and stability."

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