Australia should seize historic moment to lock in tough rules on global arms trade: Oxfam

Campaigns and Advocacy, Humanitarian Advocacy, Media Releases, News article written on the 12 Mar 2013

The Australian Government has an unprecedented opportunity at the United Nations next week to lead efforts to secure a tough, legally binding agreement to control the $60 billion a year arms trade.

International aid agency Oxfam Australia is calling on the Government to push for urgent improvements to the draft agreement on the table, so that the final treaty works to reduce the human suffering caused by arms.

With just days before final treaty negotiations begin, Oxfam said the draft agreement being considered by world governments was riddled with loopholes that needed to be fixed urgently in order for the treaty to help save lives.

More than 325,000 people are estimated to have lost their lives through armed violence since negotiations for the first ever global Arms Trade Treaty ground to a halt in July last year.

Oxfam Australia Humanitarian Advocacy Lead Steph Cousins said the Australian Government needed to show leadership in pushing other nations to close the loopholes in the draft.

“Australia has been a long-term supporter of this treaty and we should not settle for a compromise deal in the interests of a broad global consensus.

“History has shown that strong treaties create high international standards and bring about change, even for non-signatories. A weak treaty that gives legitimacy to crooked arms deals could be worse than no treaty at all, no matter how many countries sign on,” Ms Cousins said.

In a new report published today in the lead-up to the final negotiations in New York, Oxfam and Saferworld – both part of the Control Arms Coalition – set out the major gaps in the current text of the draft treaty.

Getting it Right: The pieces that matter for an Arms Trade Treaty raises concerns over weaker controls for the transfer of ammunition and weapons parts. “Guns can last decades and move easily from conflict to conflict, but without bullets, they are just pieces of metal,” Ms Cousins said.

Under the draft text, arms transfers as part of existing defence contracts between nations would not be covered, allowing potentially unscrupulous arms deals to slip through the net. Last year, for example, Russia used a 2008 defence contract to justify shipping refurbished helicopters to Syria.

Ema Tagicakibau, a Fijian campaigner with the Pacific Small Arms Action Group and a former parliamentarian held at gunpoint during the 2000 coup, said it was essential that Australia and other countries in the Pacific worked hard to fix these loopholes.

“To prevent further devastation in our small island region, the Arms Trade Treaty must be bulletproof,” Ms Tagicakibau said.

“It must control ammunition and it must prevent the transfer of arms where they are likely to be used to commit human rights abuses or gender based violence.”

Note to editors: Negotiations for the Arms Trade Treaty take place at the United Nations in New York, from 18-28 March 2013. Ema Tagicakibau and Oxfam Australia’s Humanitarian Advocacy Coordinator Ben Murphy will be at the negotiations.

For interviews or more information contact Oxfam Australia Media Coordinator Laurelle Keough on 0425 701 801 or