Activists supporting the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) are confident of an overwhelming vote in favour of the landmark agreement when the United Nations General Assembly meet this afternoon, SA time, to vote on the accord that will seek to regulate the defence industry world wide.
The Control Arms campaign says 112 of the UN’s 192 member states are now co-sponsoring the ATT, meaning they will likely vote for its passage in New York.
They are urging the remainder “to back the resolution on the ATT, and move forward rapidly to develop the treaty to end irresponsible arms transfers”.
The activists say over one thousand people are killed by firearms everyday “and many thousands more die indirectly as a consequence of armed violence or are driven from their homes, forced off their land, raped, tortured or maimed.”
“The irresponsible arms trade fuels conflict, poverty and grave human rights abuses.”
Commenting in advance of the vote, Oxfam International campaigner Anna Macdonald said this “is the chance for the nations of the world to come together, say that the carnage from the irresponsible use of weapons must stop, and actually do something about it by voting to take forward an ATT.”
Bruce Miller from the International Action Network on Small Arms said an ATT “can`t come soon enough.
“It is a matter of extreme urgency and we need every country to show that they want to end the useless waste of life we see every day around the world because of the misuse of arms,” he added.
Brian Wood from Amnesty International said an overwhelming UN vote by governments to move forward and develop the ATT will give the world new hope, despite the spoiling tactics of a few.
“No one at the UN wants to jeopardise the right of states to acquire arms legitimately, so the basic issue is whether world leaders will concede the argument and now commit themselves urgently to prevent irresponsible arms transfers that contribute to massive violations of human rights.”
But Pieter Wezeman, a researcher on arms transfers at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) says it will be long time before the ATT translates into a meaningful accord.
“In my view the ATT debate prime utility is that it puts the issue of arms supplies to repressive and aggressive actors, be it governments or otherwise, firmly on the table,” Wezeman adds.
“There is a good chance that the debate will lead in at least a number of countries to useful changes in arms export regulations and policies and possibly even to meaningful regional agreements.
“Despite being very sympathetic to the cause of the ATT debate, it is clear to me that it will take a long time before it possibly achieves anything like a global treaty; and I am currently extremely doubtful that such a treaty would be very meaningful in terms of the basic principles it could include, which will likely be so general formulated that they can be interpreted in whatever way one wants,” the SIPRI researcher warns.
He notes the US is “not on board” and voted against the UN ATT resolution in 2006, “while several others, including key countries Russia and China, have abstained from voting and shown great reservations against the ATT.”
Wezeman also points out that the ATT differs fundamentally from the Ottawa treaty that banned antipersonnel landmines. “According to the NGO driven Control Arms campaign the ATT debate is about something much more complicated, namely banning the supply of weapons to those that are likely to use in breach of international law on human rights and prohibiting international aggression,” Wezeman observes.
“This complicates matters enormously, because there is no international agreement on how to interpret the generally worded relevant international laws.
“Not surprisingly, many governments involved in the debate take a different opinion than the NGOs and see the discussion mainly as aimed at coming to some international agreement about practical measures to combat the arms trade which is illegal under currently existing national laws and at the same time ensuring their own access to arms.
“A good example of the widely existing governmental view that an ATT is not about ‘legitimate` government procurement but about weapons procured by ‘illegitimate` ‘criminal` and ‘terrorist` groups can be found in Kenya.
“The Kenyan government is one of the select number of formal sponsors of the UN ATT resolution, but when confronted last month by the accidental disclosure by pirates that Kenya was importing tanks and considerable numbers of other lighter weapons from the Ukraine it refused to disclose anything meaningful, not even a proper end user certificate, and made very clear that its arms procurement were not a matter for public discussion.
“Furthermore, while the Ukraine had dutifully informed the international community in its latest submission to the UN register of conventional arms that it had exported tanks to Kenya in 2007, Kenya reported to the same register that it had not imported any major weapons in 2007 at all.
“Whether rumours that the Ukrainian arms were actually intended for the Government of South Sudan are true or not, the fact is that the Kenyan Government showed a complete disregard or even contempt for one of the principle elements of the ATT discussion, transparency in arms procurement,” Wezeman says.
“Also its inability or unwillingness to show one of the administrative corner stones of practical measures to prevent illegal arms sales, an end user certificate, raises major questions about the sincerity of Kenya`s support to the ATT.
“And that is a country which is supposed to strongly support the ATT. Not to mention that a number of key governments consider arms supplies to Zimbabwe or Sudan as normal and legitimate business and even oppose arms embargoes on this countries as an infringement of the sovereign right of states to manage their internal affairs.
“Still, even if the ATT will turn out to be no more than an agreement or set of agreements about how countries can cooperate in enforcing national arms trade regulations and international arms embargoes that would possibly also be a step in the right direction as it could help to make this world more stable and peaceful, even if ‘rebels`, ‘criminals`, ‘terrorists` and ‘freedom fighters` undoubtedly disagree with that conclusion.”
The SA Department of Foreign Affairs has said Pretoria will support the ATT.