SA to back arms treaty

South Africa will later today vote in favour of a treaty that will seek to control the flow of arms and regulate the global defence industry.

Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Ronny Mamoepa says SA will be voting in favour of a draft resolution on an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). 

“The resolution will allow for the creation of an open-ended working group under the auspices of the United Nations, to discuss the possibility of a legally binging international agreement on common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional weapons,” he says.

About 85 countries (out of 192 UN members) support the treaty, as does a raft of global aid as well as disarmament organisations and pressure groups.
Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has leant his voice to the Control Arms Campaign (CAC) and last week 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.  
“You have an opportunity to make history again. It is an opportunity you must not allow to pass by,” Tutu said “You can and must act to control the deadly trade in weapons that is behind these deaths. There can be no further delay … It is time to end the slaughter”, he said in a message delivered by CAC activists to all UN missions in New York.
Oxfam International`s Anna McDonald says Tutu “is lobbying all countries in the UN to vote in favour of the treaty that will set international standards for transfers of arms.”
“We have a global arms industry but we don`t have a global regulation,” McDonald adds. “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 says their “intention is not to curtail or stop the flow of arms but [to ensure it takes place] in a structured manner.”

Mamoepa says SA remains a strong supporter of all disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control measures. “SA has national legislation that covers the import and export of conventional arms, including small arms and light weapons (SALW). In terms of the Act, applications for the export of conventional weapons are considered  by the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC), a Ministerial Committee appointed by the President. All decisions regarding the export of South African weapons are therefore taken at Ministerial level”.

“South Africa supports the idea of an ATT in principle, as it is expected to establish international principles and practices which correspond with South Africa`s current national arms control practices. It is also expected that an ATT would at the least establish a minimum standard for arms control, which could result in an improvement in countries where no arms controls are currently applied. 
“However, care would have to be taken to ensure that an ATT does not infringe on the interests of African and other developing countries”, Mamoepa said.  
Other measures
Meanwhile, the European Parliament has been told that strong tracing efforts and better marking of small arms and light weapons (SALW) that circulate in Africa are needed to help prevent the weapons from slipping into illicit hands.
Eric Berman, managing director of the Small Arms Survey, told a European Parliament hearing on SALW on 15 October that while most small arms circulating in Africa were stamped, “it’s very difficult to make the connections about where they immediately come from in a given region.”
In another development, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reports a three-year-old EU law that blacklists unsafe airlines has made a major impact in an unexpected area: shutting down illegal weapons shipments by air.

The ATT follows from a UN General Assembly resolution adopted in December 2006. The United States was the sole country to vote against the resolution although 24 other governments abstained.

That resolution asked then-UN secretary general Kofi Annan to seek the views of member states “on the feasibility, scope and draft parameters for a comprehensive, legally binding instrument establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms.”

The treaty builds on the success of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, also known as the Ottawa Convention and formally named the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction that outlawed the manufacture, storage, export and use of antipersonnel landmines (APM) and further mandated their destruction.

SA was an early supporter of the treaty and in 1998 destroyed most of its APMs in a controlled explosion witnessed by the media. Then SA ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Jackie Selebi, was a key mover behind the treaty. Selebi went on to become Director General of Foreign Affairs before being appointed