Hope for the Arms Trade Treaty?
Negotiations for the first Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) are happening throughout July at the U.N. in New York City. Human rights groups have argued for this treaty for years, and time has only made it more essential. Globalization continues to increase the flow of arms and instances of human rights violations involving weapons are multiplying around the world.
Now, after four preparatory sessions, the treaty will be written and hopefully approved. It must be adopted by consensus and any one country can block it. Secretary General Moon in his opening address acknowledged it was “ambitious” but “achievable.”
The treaty will bar governments from selling arms to any states under a U.N. arms embargo or where human rights are endangered. A frustrating example today is Syria, where Russia and Iran are providing weapons that are being used to kill Syria’s citizens.
Major international players in getting this treaty passed are Oxfam, Amnesty International, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), which now has its own Women’s Network. For the first time, women’s voices have a large role in making this treaty.
In a video message, Liberia’s President Ellen Sirleaf described “the terrible effects of more than 14 years of a war with itself” fueled by the plentiful supply of weapons. WILPF Secretary General Madeleine Rees spoke of the gender-based violence in the Congo, where a local woman leader said two men with a machine gun could rape an entire village.
New considerations have been added to strengthen the treaty with particular emphasis on small arms, which are now acknowledged to be a major cause of civilian deaths. An important addition being strongly promoted is ammunition. One amazing statistic: 12 billion bullets are produced yearly—two for every person in the world!
Of special interest to WAND is the inclusion of the damage done to economies through spending on weapons. In serving on the Working Group for Women Peace and Security at the U.N. we have been able to advocate for WAND’s Pentagon spending issues, which for too long have not been seen as women’s issues!
At this time, what is the treaty’s chance for success? And what is the position of the U.S.—the world’s largest arms exporter (40% of 65 billion spent worldwide)? When the treaty first came up in 2006, Bush voted against it. Today President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are strong supporters.
It was inevitable that the gun lobby would be against it, and U.S. Republican members of Congress have written Obama and Clinton in opposition. Conservative groups such as the American Legion are rallying their members with fears that it will threaten not only their guns, but also their ammunition, ignoring the fact that the treaty has nothing to do with U.S. gun laws. U.S. negotiators at the U.N. are opposing the inclusion of ammunition as being “too complicated.”
As usual, what sounds like a sensible step to a more peaceful world sounds less so when countries and individuals measure their own security by weapons. And in arms agreements, the five permanent Security Council members are the five biggest arms dealers. How willing will they be when they feel their power might be threatened? The question is how watered-down the treaty will have to be in order to reach agreement. And even then, can it pass?
Lucky for us, a program of WILPF called “Reaching Critical Will” is providing a superb daily report on the issues and the negotiations.
You can help WAND by spreading the word and focusing attention on a major step towards real security.
-Sayre Sheldon and Betsy Rivard, NGO Representatives for WAND at the U.N. and WAND Education Fund board members