More states are showing interest in an arms trade treaty (ATT), although it is less apparent how to agree on the text of such a treaty, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) says in its latest yearbook, released yesterday.
“States have not been able to reach consensus on the scope and other parameters of such a treaty, including the kinds of arms to be covered; the standards to apply in making weapon import and export decisions; and the issues of how to share, monitor and verify information,” the demilitarisation thinktank says. The meeting of the ATT preparatory committee in New York last July made progress, “but numerous outstanding issues remain to be solved in 2011 and 2012.”
South Africa has in recent years expressed its support for such a treaty. By late 2008 some 85 countries (out of 192 UN members) supported the treaty, as did a raft of global aid as well as disarmament organisations and pressure groups. Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu also leant his voice to the Control Arms Campaign (CAC) at the time and urged all UN member states to “end the slaughter” caused by the proliferation of arms.
Amnesty International, Oxfam International and the International Action Network on Small Arms established the CAC about five years ago to build on a similar treaty that outlawed antipersonnel landmines. “We have a global arms industry but we don`t have a global regulation,” Oxfam International`s Anna McDonald said. “Different states have different rules governing their export and transfer of weapons; this means any dodgy arms dealer or dubious government can easily find their way around this at best patchwork system of regulation.”
Retired Kenyan diplomat and Africa Peace Forum activist Ambassador Ochieng Adala said their “intention is not to curtail or stop the flow of arms but [to ensure it takes place] in a structured manner.”
In March this year, SIPRI cited Zimbabwe a illustrative of the difficulties in maintaining responsible export principles “when key members of the international community are not convinced that internal repression is a sufficient reason to interfere with a country’s sovereign right to buy arms.” The think tank says the European Union (EU) and others have responded to political violence in the South African neighbour by imposing arms embargoes. But other states, notably Russia and China, have expressed no concerns about the situation. “The most prominent supplier of arms to Zimbabwe has been China, which supplied more than one-third of the volume of Zimbabwe’s major weapons between 1980 and 2009,” SIPRI said in a research paper.
“At present, there are diverging interpretations of existing obligations by UN members with regards to the provision of arms and military equipment to states that use such materiel in internal disputes. Nevertheless, this is an issue that many in the international community would like to address within an ATT. What needs to be further developed is the construction of an ATT that can effectively tackle arms transfers to countries with internal conflicts and human rights abuses. The pattern of arms transfers to Zimbabwe along with the vetoing of UN sanctions illustrates the differing views of major arms suppliers. For some it is ‘business as usual’ and for others embargoes and sanctions help restrict human rights violations.
“The Zimbabwe case also reveals another reason why an ATT is desirable: the current situation, in which the Zimbabwean government is capable of bypassing European and US efforts by buying and attracting investment elsewhere, exposes the limits of unilateral embargoes. Only a global ban could have restricted Zimbabwe from importing arms legally, thereby potentially leading to a change in the country’s critical political situation.”