2 July 2012: Vol. 5, No. 1

Editorial: Enhancing human security by regulating the arms trade
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF

Download full PDF here

With the negotiating conference to develop legally-binding standards for the international arms trade set to begin today, advocates, delegates, and survivors of armed conflict around the world have tuned in to participate and watch the action at the United Nations. Out in the rest of the world, the daily news clearly demonstrates the urgency of the UN’s task. So-called “conventional weapons” are used all over the globe to kill or maim civilians; violate human rights; cause refugee crises; facilitate sexual violence and trafficking; obstruct economic and social development; and more. The global arms trade is valued at over US$50 billion per year and global military spending as a whole reached US$1.74 trillion in 2011. Above all else, weapons are tools of violence and repression by those that use them and tools of financial gain by those who make and sell them.

For decades, civil society and many governments have demanded that the international community take action against the arms trade, the negative effects of which have implications for global peace and security. Currently, trade in bananas and children’s toys is more heavily regulated than weapons. This July, civil society groups and governments from around the world have come together to change that. Actors from a wide range of disciplines, backgrounds, professions, and countries will work to ensure that member states negotiate a robust and comprehensive treaty that includes all types of conventional weapons and ammunition and that contributes concretely to protecting human rights.

Many of us, including Reaching Critical Will and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), will also work to ensure that the treaty does not result in the United Nations being used as a cover for future arms transfers. We believe that the arms trade treaty (ATT) must be a strong tool with the primary purpose of preventing armed conflict, preventing the violation of human rights and international humanitarian law, and seriously reducing the culture and economy of militarism. It will be incredibly important that the final treaty text does not undermine any of the existing standards and regulations of the arms trade, but builds upon these. It will also be essential that the ATT does not facilitate the arms trade or the arms industry, but instead helps build the foundations for not just the regulation but also the reduction of the arms trade, along with the reduction of militarism throughout politics and society, reduction of military spending, and redirection of economic resources and priorities.

Many groups and constituencies have different angles to push during the course of negotiations. One issue that has become a point of convergence for many advocates working for a strong ATT is that of gender-based armed violence. The arms trade has specific gender dimensions and direct links to discrimination and gender-based violence. Emboldened by weapons, power and status, both state and non-state actors often perpetrate gender-based violence, disproportionately affecting women, with impunity. This has far-reaching implications for efforts to consolidate peace, security, gender equality, and sustainable development.

For this reason, WILPF, the IANSA Women’s Network, Amnesty International, and Religions for Peace have joined together to draft a policy paper on including gender-based criteria in the arms trade treaty. We are calling for the ATT to require states not to authorize an international transfer of conventional arms where there is a substantial risk that the arms under consideration are likely to be used to perpetrate or facilitate acts of gender-based violence, including rape and other forms of sexual violence. Dozens of civil society groups have endorsed this call. More information can be found on page 4 of the PDF and at www.reachingcriticalwill.org.

There is a long month ahead, but it is a labour of love for those who seek the adoption of effective measures to combat the devestation of the arms trade. Being ambitious, creative, and uncompromising in the quest for strengthened controls on the trade in arms will be crucial for strengthening human security for current generations and beyond.

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