A landmark treaty regulating the USD 85 billion global arms trade came into force on Wednesday, with UN chief Ban Ki-moon saying it will help prevent transfer of weapons to terrorists and human rights abusers and asked major arms exporters and importers to join the pact.
The Arms Trade Treaty, adopted by the UN General Assembly in April last year, is the first legally-binding multilateral agreement that prohibits nations from exporting conventional weapons to countries when they know those weapons would be used for genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.
As of December 23, 60 nations had ratified the treaty and 130 had signed it, indicating that they intended to ratify. India was among the 23 nations that had abstained from voting on the treaty resolution last year, saying the draft treaty annexed to the resolution is “weak on terrorism and non-state actors” and these concerns find no mention in the specific prohibitions of the Treaty.
UN Secretary-General Ban said the treaty coming into force less than two years after it was adopted by the General Assembly “attests to our collective determination to reduce human suffering by preventing the transfer or diversion of weapons to areas afflicted by armed conflict and violence and to warlords, human rights abusers, terrorists and criminal organisations.”
He encouraged all nations, “particularly major arms exporters and importers”, to join the treaty. “With this in mind, I call on those States who have not yet done so, to accede to it without delay,” he said. Major weapons producers like Russia, China, India and Pakistan have not signed the treaty.
Top arms exporters that have signed and ratified it include Britain, France and Germany. The US, the world’s top arms exporter, signed the treaty in September 2013 but the Senate has not ratified it. Ban said the treaty marks the opening of a new chapter in the international community’s efforts to bring responsibility, accountability and transparency to the global arms trade.
“From now on, the States Parties to this important treaty will have a legal obligation to apply the highest common standards to their international transfers of weapons and ammunition,” Ban said in a statement. Calling it a breakthrough in curbing human rights violations and reducing human suffering, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein hailed the treaty for establishing the highest possible common international standards for regulating the trade in conventional arms.
“The lax regulations covering the trade in conventional weapons and the consequent widespread availability and misuse of arms have had a huge human cost. The unregulated arms trade is one of the main drivers of armed conflict and violence, contributing and facilitating the commission of human rights and humanitarian law violations,” Zeid said in a statement.
Following the adoption of the treaty last year, India’s Permanent Representative to the Conference of Disarmament in Geneva Sujata Mehta had said that from the beginning of the ATT process, India maintained that such a treaty should make a real impact on illicit trafficking in conventional arms and their illicit use especially by terrorists and other unauthorized and unlawful non-State actors.
India has also stressed consistently that the ATT should ensure a balance of obligations between exporting and importing states. Mehta had said that India cannot accept that the treaty be used as an instrument in the hands of exporting states to take “unilateral force majeure measures” against importing states parties without consequences. “The relevant provisions in the final text do not meet our requirements.”
Meanwhile, an independent UN human rights expert said that while the ATT is a very important step to peace and security, numerous ambiguities remain in the text that could end up supporting the arms industry. UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and countering terrorism Ben Emmerson said further consideration on the issue of prohibiting the sale of weapons to non-state entities is needed and a subsequent agreement should address outstanding issues that were left out in the final compromise.
“Terrorist attacks have become more and more atrocious by the kind of weapons they acquire. This needs to end,” Emmerson added, noting that numerous ambiguities remain in the text of the treaty which could end up supporting the arms industry. “Nothing in the treaty forbids selling weapons to non-state entities. States must intensify their efforts for disarmament in protecting the right to life and physical
Lobby group Control Arms said the treaty aims to set the highest standards for cross-border transfers of arms and ammunition and to cut off the supply of weapons to dictators and human rights abusers across the world. “Civilians have paid far too high a price this year. From Aleppo to Peshawar, from Gaza to South Sudan, we have seen the devastating impact of the poorly-regulated arms trade,” Control Arms Director Anna Macdonald said.
Macdonald said that for too long, arms and ammunition have been traded with few questions asked about whose lives they will destroy and the treaty would bring that to an end. “Campaigners have been pushing for this moment for a decade. If robustly implemented, this treaty has the potential to save many lives and offer much needed protection to vulnerable civilians around the world. It is now – finally – against international law to put weapons into the hands of human rights abusers and dictators,” Macdonald said.