Delegates from around the world gathered in New York yesterday for the start of month-long UN-hosted negotiations to hammer out the first-ever binding treaty to regulate the global weapons market, valued at more than US$60 billion a year.
Arms control campaigners say one person dies every minute as a result of armed violence around the world and that a convention is needed to prevent illicitly traded guns from pouring into conflict zones and fueling wars and atrocities.
Most UN member states favor a strong treaty.
If they get their way, all signatories would be charged with enforcing compliance to any treaty by companies that produce arms and with taking steps to prevent rogue dealers from operating within their borders.
They say conflicts in Syria and elsewhere cast a shadow over the talks, reminding delegates of the urgency of the situation.
“In Syria, Sudan and the Great Lakes of Africa, the world is now once again bearing witness to the horrific human cost of the reckless and overly secret arms trade,” said Brian Wood, an international arms control and human rights manager at Amnesty International.
“Why should millions more people be killed and lives devastated before leaders wake up and take decisive action to properly control international arms transfers?” he said.
There is no guarantee the July 2 to July 27 negotiations will produce a treaty, let alone a good one. In February, preparatory talks on the ground rules for this month’s talks nearly collapsed due to procedural wrangling and other disagreements.
In the end, the US and other countries succeeded in ensuring the treaty must be approved unanimously, so any one country can effectively veto a deal.
However, the treaty may not be doomed if that happens. Wood said nations that support a strong pact could bring a treaty to the 193-nation UN General Assembly and adopt it with a two-thirds majority vote if there is no consensus this month.
There are deep divisions on key issues to be tackled in the treaty negotiations, such as whether human rights should be a mandatory criterion for determining whether governments should permit weapons exports to specific countries.
Arms control advocates say a strong treaty is long overdue.
“It is an absurd and deadly reality that there are currently global rules governing the trade of fruit and dinosaur bones, but not ones for the trade of guns and tanks,” said Jeff Abramson, director of Control Arms.
Abramson, Wood and Anna Macdonald of Oxfam spoke with reporters on Friday about the negotiations.
Much of the discussion revolved around Russia’s arms supplies to Syria, where Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s 16-month assault on an increasingly militarized opposition has killed over 10,000 people. Russia is al-Assad’s top arms supplier.
Wood said Russia is not the only culprit in Syria, one of many conflicts fed by unregulated arms deliveries. Western nations have also helped al-Assad. There are tanks on Syrian streets that come from Slovakia, upgraded by Italy, he added.
“From Congo to Libya, from Syria to Mali, all have suffered from the unregulated trade in weapons and ammunition allowing those conflicts to cause immeasurable suffering and go on far too long. In the next few weeks, diplomats will either change the world or fail the world,” Macdonald said.