New treaty will help reduce human cost of poorly regulated arms trade – UN official

The poorly regulated trade in arms has adverse humanitarian, human rights and development consequences. Photo: OCHA/ Jihan El Alaily

3 April 2013 – The United Nations refugee chief today applauded the approval by the General Assembly of the first-ever treaty to regulate the global arms trade, stressing that it will help to reduce the terrible human cost of this lucrative enterprise.

“Refugees know the costs of armed conflict better than anyone. For them in particular, as well as the millions more forcibly displaced inside their own countries by armed violence, the adoption of this treaty is badly needed,” said António Guterres. “The goal for all of us must now be effective implementation.”

According to the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are at least 15 million refugees plus 26 million internally displaced people worldwide. In the vast majority of cases, conflict and armed violence are the causes of their flight.

“UNHCR has long urged regulation of the arms trade, as a means of reducing the terrible human cost of the poorly regulated arms trade and the widespread availability and misuse of weapons,” the agency stated in a news release.

The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which regulates the international trade in conventional arms, was adopted by the 193-member Assembly yesterday by a vote of 154 in favour, 3 against and 23 abstentions. It regulates all conventional arms within the following categories: battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers, and small arms and light weapons.

A 2011 study commissioned by UNHCR, entitled “The Global Burden of Armed Violence,” documented that more than half a million people die as a result of armed violence every year, fuelled in many cases by the widespread availability of weapons. Many more suffer horrific injuries and abuses, including rape, while still more are forced from their homes.

Among other provisions, the new treaty – which will enter into force once it receives 50 ratifications – includes a prohibition on the transfer of arms which would be used in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity and certain war crimes.

The UN Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas, welcomed the adoption of the treaty, calling it a significant first step with the potential to reduce “the appalling human cost of the trade in conventional weapons and the conflicts they fuel.”

“Those who sell or facilitate weapons to individuals that will commit human rights violations know that they have responsibility for the death and misery caused by those weapons and at some stage may be liable to face the International Criminal Court for complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity,” he warned in a news release.

“However, the treaty is not perfect, since numerous ambiguities remain in the text which could end up favouring the arms industry,” the expert added, stressing that nothing in the treaty prohibits selling weapons to non-State entities. “More reflection is needed and a subsequent agreement should address outstanding issues that were left out in the final compromise. It is for civil society in the countries concerned to participate in this debate.”

“The world needs to stop not only the trade but the production of arms, since once weapons have been produced, there is an incentive to use them and to continue producing them,” stated Mr. de Zayas.

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes.


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UN General Assembly approves global arms trade treaty

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