Amnesty International have today joined with campaigners in more than 100 countries to call upon government leaders to develop a "bullet-proof" Arms Trade Treaty. Amnesty's call came as they published a report on abuses fuelled by the trade in weapons.
Their comments come ahead of negotiations between leaders which are expected to begin in July. Some fear that proposals for the treaty will be watered down, while other campaigners have warned against putting too much hope in the treaty without wider political change.
Amnesty have published their report, Killer Facts, to coincide with the Global Week of Action against Gun Violence (10–16 May). It outlines what they describe as “the dreadful human cost of armed violence, poverty and rights abuses which are caused by a weakly regulated arms trade”.
Organisations including Amnesty are campaigning for better regulations on the arms trade. Other groups, such as the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) in Britain, back improved regulations in principle, but suggest that they will be enforced only if there is an end to arms industry influence within government.
“It beggars belief how no international agreement exists to regulate the global trade of weapons, despite the fact that there are global treaties for items such as bananas or dinosaur bones,” said Amnesty's Oliver Sprague.
He added, “There must be much stricter regulations in place to control the international arms trade, which is why a robust, bullet-proof Arms Trade Treaty is vital”.
About 60 per cent of human rights violations documented by Amnesty International involve the use of small arms. The Arms Trade Treaty is expected to focus mainly on small arms and campaigners hope that it will lead to significant improvement in this area.
Amnesty called on the UK government to “lead the way” on international negotiations on the issue. British ministers have spoken favourably of the Arms Trade Treaty, but there has been anger that ministers have also assured UK-based arms companies that the treaty will make no difference to their business.
As a result, the Defence Manufacturers Association, which represents arms companies in the UK, has given its backing to the treaty. The UK is the world's second largest arms exporter.
CAAT say that they welcome the treaty as it will reduce the trade in small arms, but it is unlikely to affect the world's largest arms companies, who have little involvement in small arms. They suggest that regulations have often been weakened by the influence of arms companies within government and that this situation must be tackled to make an impact on the most powerful arms dealers.
But CAAT and Amnesty agree that the arms trade is one of the main factors fuelling poverty and human rights abuses around the globe. They both urge governments to tackle the arms trade as a matter of priority.
"At least 250,000 people are killed every year in armed conflict,” said Sprague, “Thousands more are injured, raped and traumatised every day because of thousands of weapons are ending up in the hands of human rights abusers”.