Australia must act to prevent an Arms Trade Treaty ‘full of holes’

Campaigns and Advocacy, Humanitarian Advocacy, Media Releases, News article written on the 26 Jul 2012

With the draft text of the Arms Trade Treaty being negotiated at the United Nations in New York released earlier this week, Australia is being urged not to concede to a compromise agreement that will do little to prevent transfers of arms to human rights abusers and repressive regimes.

With just two days left to negotiate an agreement on legally-binding international standards in the international arms trade, governments are feeling pressure to accept a compromise agreement that will satisfy the demands of the major arms exporters, including the United States, Russia and China.

Oxfam Australia Executive Director Andrew Hewett said that Australia, as one of the original co-authors of the resolution which initiated the UN negotiations, needed to push hard to close major loopholes and ambiguities in the draft text on the table, if a truly life-saving instrument was to be reached.

“There are more holes in this text than a leaky bucket,” Mr Hewett said. 

“Australia, as a co-author of the Arms Trade Treaty resolution and a respected international voice on disarmament, needs to use its political weight and call for these gaps to be urgently closed, if they are serious about a comprehensive and effective agreement.”

The scope of arms covered by the draft treaty is incomplete, meaning there are controls for only a narrow range of arms based on outdated definitions from the shadow of the Cold War. 

While small arms and light weapons like machine guns and sniper rifles are covered, references to ammunition and parts and components are weak and confusing, meaning that the Treaty only explicitly requires control of guns, but not bullets.

Also of great concern is an exemption of transfers under existing contractual obligations, no matter how circumstances might since have changed. This would allow Russia to continue to sell arms and ammunition to Syria against existing contracts to carry out massacres of Syrian citizens.

Pressure to reach a deal acceptable to all Permanent Members of the Security Council who, along with Germany, are also the world’s biggest arms exporters, has been growing during the last week of negotiations.

However, Mr Hewett said it was critical that Australia remembered the central purpose of the negotiations was to create a high international standard that would change, rather than simply reinforce, the status quo.

“While a substantive outcome is strongly desired, accepting a weak Treaty could in fact make matters worse by legitimising a poor standard of Practice,” Mr Hewett said.

“A strong, robust Arms Trade Treaty still has the support of an overwhelming majority of states and Australia must continue to show leadership to ensure that the concerns of these countries are not drowned out by a minority. 

“Reaching consensus will be difficult, but a compromise outcome cannot come at the price of a largely ineffective Treaty.”

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