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Ka pai New Zealand

Luke Roughton, Oxfam's Policy Advisor, welcomes New Zealand's ratification of the Arms Trade Treaty.

Today New Zealand became the 45th country to ratify the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), an international, legally binding agreement to regulate the global trade in conventional weapons.

This ratification is especially significant as it makes New Zealand one of the first 50 countries to ratify, after which the ATT enters into force.

The ATT is designed to stop arms, especially small arms and light weapons, from being transferred to countries where they’re likely to be used to commit human rights violations or be used in contravention of international humanitarian law. Even a superficial glance at current world events gives ample evidence for why this is needed. We look on in horror at the tragedies unfolding in South Sudan, Gaza, Syria, Iraq, DRC and many other places where the supply of guns and ammunition provoke, expand, prolong and intensify armed violence.

The ATT won’t stop these conflicts, but it is a necessary step and a vital tool to address the injustice of the irresponsible global arms trade. It sends a signal that the world is not prepared to accept the death, injury and displacement of millions of people every year as by-products of arms producers’ profit margins.

As NGOs, we campaigned and rallied governments to agree on an ATT from the beginning, when it was just a pipe-dream. We made history thanks to a combination of intensive advocacy and campaign work in all regions of the world. But it would have been impossible without the leadership of small, independent countries. New Zealand was a progressive leader in the negotiations, pushing against major arms suppliers' attempts to weaken the treaty.

New Zealand should also be commended for ensuring that NGOs had a voice in the negotiations, including by inviting NGO representatives such as myself from Oxfam, onto their delegations. This meant that the work Oxfam was doing in the Pacific, to draw out the needs and concerns of Pacific civil society, could be fed through into the formal negotiations. This model of government and NGOs working together had a big impact in the success of the ATT, and could be replicated in other international negotiations.

Ratification and entry-into-force is just the end of the beginning for the ATT. It now has to be implemented and interpreted to the highest standards to ensure it actually saves lives. New Zealand is contributing to this effort by producing model implementing legislation for Pacific Island countries. Practical tools like that, along with financial and technical assistance will need to be provided by those countries with the means to do so, if the ATT is to become universal in its application.

Last week Oxfam, Amnesty International and Red Cross held an event in New Zealand’s Parliament to celebrate New Zealand’s ratification. It is indeed worth celebrating that we’ve come so far, but without forgetting the ongoing human tragedies that will persist until these words on paper translate into action on the ground.