Arms trade treaty or what?

LONDON EYE - Stephen Lillie - The Philippine Star

In the next week or so, the members of the United Nations have an opportunity to agree an historic Treaty that would make a lasting difference to people across the world. It’s not front-page news most of the time, but the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is within our grasp — and, with it, comes a chance to make a major contribution to the security of humankind. It will help to ensure that the uncontrolled movement of arms no longer threatens the security and prosperity of everyone, everywhere, and particularly the world’s most vulnerable.

The UN Conference last July came very close to agreement. The overwhelming international support for an Arms Trade Treaty was shown in November when 157 states voted in favour of a Resolution to hold a further Conference this month to finalise the Treaty, with no country voting against. So the task now is to realise that shared vision by agreeing a robust Treaty with the widest possible support, particularly from the major arms exporters. 

On every level, the case for a Treaty is overwhelming. The Treaty will save lives. A man, woman or child dies every minute as a result of armed violence. Two-thirds die in countries not officially in conflict. Over 2 billion small arms are circulating in Africa alone. Poorly regulated or illegal flows of weapons from abroad destabilise societies, states and regions.

The Treaty will promote development. Violence fuelled by unregulated or illegal weapons diverts resources from schools and healthcare. It undermines sustainable development, erodes stability and robs millions of their future. It is estimated that armed violence has cost Africa some $18 billion a year, equivalent to the total aid it receives.

The Treaty will combat terrorism and crime. When terrorists benefit from easy access to weapons, they threaten the security of not only the countries where they base themselves but also their neighbours and the rest of the world.

The Treaty will reduce human suffering. Up to three-quarters of grave human rights abuses involves the misuse of weapons. The Treaty would require governments not to allow the export of arms where there is an unacceptable risk they could be used to violate human rights or international humanitarian law.

The Treaty will protect the legitimate arms trade. It would fully recognise a State’s right to access the arms it needs for its legitimate defence needs. International industrial collaboration in arms production would be promoted through the introduction of common standards. 

I believe the benefits are compelling: globally and across South East Asia. They are particularly relevant to the Philippines where violent conflicts are exacerbated by illegal weapons. That these weapons are held by private armed and criminal groups only worsens the instability, lack of development and poverty that has blighted parts of the Philippines for too long. The law protects. Illegal guns oppress. The ATT will support states that still struggle to regulate the proliferation of loose firearms.

The ATT will not solve all our problems, but it offers us the chance to take a very significant step forward. It will offer the prospect of a better future to millions who live in the shadow of conflict. As the UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has said, the prize is on offer. History will not forgive those who seek to prevent it.

(Stephen Lillie is the British Ambassador to the Philippines)

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