UN to seek Arms Trade Treaty in a world awash with weapons

By JT NGUYEN | Deutsche Presse-Agentur | Published: June 28, 2012

NEW YORK — The United Nations will launch a new round of negotiations on an Arms Trade Treaty on Monday to try to regulate the lucrative global arms trade worth hundreds of billions of dollars a year.

Since its last unsuccessful round of talks more than a decade ago, weapons both legally sold and those circulating in the underground have fuelled conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan. The new talks will run through the end of July.

Major countries that produce and export weapons, including the United States, China and Russia were opposed to an international treaty that would deprive them of a significant source of income.

Other countries like Vietnam, India and Egypt producing parts and components for weapons were also opposed to a treaty, Amnesty International said. The trade in parts and components was worth 10 billion dollars between 2010 and 2011.

Oxfam’s head of arms control, Anna Macdonald, said excluding parts and components in the treaty would create dangerous loopholes.

“Many tanks, aircraft and guns are sold in pieces — just like bookshelves from a furniture store — with no questions asked about how they are going to be used," she said.

The advocacy groups said military equipment can be purchased in pieces and re-assembled. They said Zimbabwe bought 12 K8 trainer aircraft in 2005 and 2006, which were re-assembled from parts produced in Britain (ejector seats), the US (cockpit instruments) and Ukraine (turbofan engines).

The aircraft's plans were based on designs from Pakistan and China.

International advocacy groups like Amnesty, Oxfam and human rights groups have been pushing for such a treaty, citing the horrific civilian deaths caused by the massive amount of small arms and weapons available, legal or otherwise, to armed groups.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) supports such a treaty because ready and easily obtained weapons in the black market contributed to violations of international humanitarian law.

"Civilians remain at risk of being injured, killed, or displaced by violence involving weapons, even long after an armed conflict has ended," said Red Cross director of international law and cooperation, Philip Spoerri, at a UN Security Council meeting this week.

"This is why the ICRC strongly supports the adoption of a global Arms Trade Treaty," Spoerri said.

Amnesty cited the case of South Sudan, where both the government and rebel groups had received arms and ammunition from China and Sudan and tanks from Ukraine in the past year and indiscriminately used them against civilians.

"A strong treaty could help prevent many other communities suffering from the horrific cost of the irresponsible arms trade, in the way the people of Mayom County (South Sudan) have,” said Amnesty's Erwin van der Borght.