Time to curb the illicit global arms trade
Conventional weapons that are sold or diverted to unscrupulous regimes, criminals, and terrorist groups kill hundreds of thousands of civilians every year in places like Syria and Sudan. World leaders must act soon on an arms trade treaty being negotiated this month at the United Nations.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of civilians around the globe are slaughtered by conventional weapons that are sold, transferred by governments, or diverted to unscrupulous regimes, criminals, illegal militias, and terrorist groups. The enormous human toll from the unregulated trade of conventional arms undermines international security and impedes economic and social development.Skip to next paragraph
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But the governments and arms brokers that contribute to crimes against humanity by pouring guns and ammo into conflict zones are not violating any international law and are often outside the jurisdiction of national laws. This hole in the fabric of international security can and must be fixed beginning this month.
After three years of preparations, diplomats from the United States and more than 100 other countries are meeting at the United Nations in New York to work out a new legally binding, global arms trade treaty by a July 27 deadline. The goal is to establish common standards for the import, export, and transfer of conventional arms and ammunition.
While the US and a few other countries have relatively tough regulations governing the trade of weapons, many countries have weak or ineffective regulations, if they have any at all. The result is that there are more international laws governing the trade of bananas than conventional weapons, like AK-47s.
In the absence of international standards and effective national controls, irresponsible arms suppliers exploit the gaps for profit. For years, for instance, Russian firms have supplied helicopters to Syria which have reportedly been used by the Assad regime to attack civilian population centers in recent weeks.
Weapons, ammunition, and equipment made in Belarus, China, and Russia continue to flow into Sudan, supplying government military forces that commit atrocities in Darfur and the Nuba Mountains regions.
As US Assistant Secretary of State for International Security Thomas Countryman said in April, when it comes to the arms trade there must be “a new sense of responsibility upon every member of the United Nations that you cannot simply export and forget.”
The arms trade treaty won’t stop all illicit arms transfers, but it has the potential to change behavior by requiring states to put in place basic regulations and follow common sense criteria that reduce irresponsible international arms transfers and hold arms suppliers more accountable for their actions.