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Nameless victims deserve Arms Treaty

By Luke Roughton, Oxfam's Control Arm Coordinator . Follow Luke in New York @LukeRoughton

There are thousands, millions, of names we must remember.

Those killed by armed violence in the cities and towns of Syria, Papua New Guinea, Libya, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Somalia, Darfur, Colombia, Mexico, the United States – and countless other places. Add to this, the 325,000 people estimated to have lost their lives through armed violence in the eight months since negotiations for a global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) ground to a halt in July last year.

These victims of gun violence will never have the chance to speak out against the horrific and destructive consequences of the unregulated flow of arms around the world. In their memory, we must demand that the final treaty is robust, free from loopholes, and holds up to the highest and most effective international standards.

Concern over loopholes

Last Friday we were presented with the new draft text of the Arms Trade Treaty. It was prepared by the President of the ATT negotiating conference after one week of deliberations based on the text which failed to gain consensus last July. In short, states have made barely any progress. The loopholes that we were so concerned about in the lead up to this conference are still in the text.

Ammunition and parts and components are still not comprehensively regulated. Certain transactions like gifts of weapons are still not covered. The standard of risk that states have to assess potential violations of human rights and other consequences is still too high. Reports by states on their arms transfers – crucial to transparency in the arms trade – are still not required to be public. 

This is simply not good enough. Unless these loopholes are closed, the treaty will not achieve what it must. A weak ATT would undermine existing legal standards like the Geneva Conventions, international human rights and humanitarian law, and would allow arms dealers to continue putting weapons in the hands of human rights abusers.

With only one day to go after today, UN member states have a decision to make: stand up for an ATT that contains the minimum standards necessary to save lives or succumb to the demands of those who have an interest in this deadly trade.

Time for leadership

States must speak up with principled, not political positions

Many states pride themselves on their contributions to international disarmament, peace and security. It is time for them to take the lead in these negotiations. This week will be a test of their true commitment to international security and the rule of law. Diplomats must hold strong in the emerging debate between those countries remaining committed to an ambitious treaty, and those willing to accept any outcome at any price.

In Oxfam’s work with communities around the world, we are witnesses to the results of the unchecked arms trade, from conscription of child soldiers to the collapse of economies. In Africa, Oxfam estimates the cost of arms-fuelled conflict at US$284 billion between 1990 and 2005 – about US$18 billion a year that could have been spent instead on education, infrastructure and health care.

Oxfam and other representatives of civil society are asking governments to choose strength in their deliberations towards an Arms Trade Treaty. An overly compromised text would bring serious consequences: the legitimacy to trade weapons despite the risk they will be used to perpetrate war crimes and human rights abuses.

States must speak up with principled, not political positions. They must lend their voices to those who have been directly affected by armed violence because right now, in these three days, they are the only counterweight to the vested interests and might of those countries that deal in indiscriminate violence.