Treaty designed to stem flow of deadly weapons becomes international law

Campaigns and Advocacy, Humanitarian Advocacy, Media Releases, News article written on the 24 Dec 2014

The landmark Arms Trade Treaty designed to halt the flow of deadly weapons to human rights abusers and oppressive governments will become international law today after more than 10 years in the making.

Oxfam worked alongside other human rights campaigners to push for the first global agreement laying down universal standards to control the $100bn a year international trade in conventional arms, including tanks, artillery, assault rifles, and ammunition.

Oxfam Humanitarian Advocacy Manager Ben Murphy, who led Oxfam Australia’s participation in the treaty negotiations, said the new law had the potential to save and change countless lives.

“On average, someone dies as a result of armed violence every minute, while others are injured, raped, forced to flee their homes or simply live under constant threat of weapons, Mr Murphy said.

“The Arms Trade Treaty is now a binding international law that will work to address this terrible statistic by transforming the global arms business. It will no longer be acceptable to look the other way when arms are transferred to regimes that use them to kill and injure innocent people and violate their human rights.”

The Arms Trade Treaty requires governments to undertake a risk assessment against strict criteria prior to authorising any transfer of arms. These criteria include the risk of the arms being used to commit or facilitate serious human rights violations or war crimes. If there is a substantial risk of this happening, the deal cannot be authorised by the exporting country and the arms cannot be exported.

The Control Arms Coalition, a global network founded by Oxfam, Amnesty International and the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), first called for an Arms Trade Treaty in 2003, and has worked for more than 10 years to make the treaty a reality.

The Australian Government played a leading role throughout the negotiation of the treaty, as one of seven ‘co-authors’ (alongside Argentina, Costa Rica, Finland, Japan, Kenya and the United Kingdom) that initiated the formal UN process towards an Arms Trade Treaty in 2006.

It is now crucial that the Australian Government help ensure the words of the treaty are fully implemented as soon as possible, by working to improve reporting and transparency around arms transfers, and providing ongoing support to developing nations, to put in place the legal and institutional requirements to comply with the treaty’s obligations.

“Even in small, developing nations which are not major importers or exporters of arms, recent history has shown that a small number of arms can have a disproportionately large impact – displacing large numbers of people, restricting access to basic services, and negatively impacting sustainable development and the economy,” Mr Murphy said.

“For example, in the Pacific the current lack of common standards for arms transfers leaves our region vulnerable to irresponsible arms deals. An effectively and universally implemented treaty will promote a peaceful Pacific and reduce the risks of arms being misused to commit armed violence and human rights abuses, including sexual and gender based violence.”

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