Arms Trade Treaty 'could legitimise arms sales', say campaigners

By staff writers
April 3, 2013

Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has described the arms trade treaty agreed at the United Nations yesterday (2 April) as ineffective.

The campaign group believes the treaty will not reduce the arms trade or prevent exports to human rights violators. The treaty may set out regulations, says CAAT, but it also says that there is a problem in that states recognise “the legitimate political, security, economic and commercial interests … in the international trade in conventional arms.”

CAAT says the treaty will not stop any arms exports from the world’s largest arms producing countries or arms companies. It believes that countries such as the UK, the US, France and Russia will be able to continue selling to repressive regimes.

The UK government puts commercial interests at the centre of its arms export policy. It has a 150-strong arms sales unit and Prime Ministers make visits to Saudi Arabia, encouraging rulers to buy UK weaponry. In 2009 the Saudi air force used UK-supplied Tornado fighter-bombers in attacks in Yemen which killed hundreds of civilians.

Most of the treaty’s provisions are already incorporated in the UK’s export criteria and controls. The UK government ignores the spirit of these controls in favour of arms promotion, says CAAT.

The Head of the Foreign Office’s Arms Export Policy Department has revealed that it reassured countries in the Middle East that a treaty “would in effect implement criteria that are very similar to those we currently implement” and “would not add anything on top of that.” (Committee on Arms Export Controls, 19.12.12, Q136)

Ann Feltham, CAAT’s Parliamentary Coordinator, said: “This treaty legitimises the arms trade. If governments are serious about ending the trade in weaponry, with its dire consequences for peace and human rights, they should immediately stop promoting arms exports.”

Vince Cable, the business secretary, told a cross-party committee of MPs in 2012: "We do trade with governments that are not democratic and have bad human rights records. We do business with repressive governments and there's no denying that".


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