Every day, according to Amnesty International, thousands of people are killed, injured, raped, and forced to flee from their homes as a result of armed conflict, armed violence, and human rights violations and abuses perpetrated using conventional arms.
As violence continues unchecked around the world, a coalition of humanitarian and health organizations is rallying support for a “bulletproof” global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), to be discussed in July, that would stymie the flow of small arms and light weapons, such as assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and handguns to countries around the world.
The US Department of Commerce estimates that corruption in the arms trade accounts for 50 percent of all global corrupt transactions, despite the fact that the arms trade does not exceed 1 percent of global trade annually.
“We have regulations that govern the sale of bananas, why not ones governing the deadly sales of conventional arms?” asked Oxfam International Policy Adviser for Arms and Development Deepyan Basu Ray in a recent preparatory committee hearing on the pitfalls of arms procurement and corruption.
The UN hosted a series of preparatory committee hearings last month as a preliminary discussion on the stipulations of the long-proposed arms trade treaty, which is tabled to be negotiated from July 2-27 in New York.
A 2011 Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development report on the global burden of armed violence correlates the relationship between the arms trade, gun violence, and wealth disparity and how they combine to undermine development in those parts of the world that need it most.
According to the report, an estimated 526,000 violent deaths occur every year, of which only 55,000 are the result of armed conflict or terrorism. Nine out of ten of those violent deaths are the result of crime, such as American drug violence or economically motivated piracy in Somalia.
The report makes a strong case for conventional arms regulation by demonstrating the high cost women and girls pay because of gun violence. “About 66,000 women and girls are violently killed around the world each year. High levels of ‘femicide’ are frequently accompanied—and in some cases generated by—a high level of tolerance for violence against women,” the report states.
“The world desperately needs this treaty,” Oxfam International Humanitarian Campaigner Øistein Thorsen tells MediaGlobal.
Proponents of the ATT have “reached the final hurdle,” Thorsen says. Despite hundreds of thousands of lives lost, states are still resisting the broad implications of the treaty, which could have adverse effects on domestic defense industries. “Certain states are okay with regulating the sale of arms but want no restrictions on the sale of ammunition,” he says.
Russia and the United States are currently on the fence regarding the treaty. The two largest arms exporters are critical of such a binding agreement based on its financial implications, while private groups in the United States like the National Rifle Association (NRA) vehemently oppose restrictions to legally owned civilian weapons.
The US is currently the world’s largest exporter of small arms and light weapons and voted against a resolution in 2006 proposing an international ATT. In 2009, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had a change of heart, saying they would indeed support a strong UN treaty. The NRA continues to lobby lawmakers to strike down the pact once it reaches the US Congress.
Other countries like Egypt, Iran, and Pakistan are also in favor of a treaty with much lighter restrictions.
Despite the opposition, support is growing, according to Control Arms, the alliance of international organizations spearheading the ATT. A July 2011 joint statement by 21 of the world’s largest financial institutions and signatories of the UN-backed Principles of Responsible Investment, called for a “robust and comprehensive ATT.” Together, the institutions own or manage a combined total of $1.2 trillion in assets, more than the entire global small arms and light weapons industry.
“We’re making marked progress,” Control Arms Director Jeff Abramson tells MediaGlobal. “But progress is being mired in procedural debate. As we think about this meeting, people are dying.”
As Kalashnikovs and hand grenades remain readily available on the worldwide black market, the impasse in the preparatory committees stalled on issues of consensus and veto power.
“(Disagreement) primarily revolved on how to define consensus,” Abramson says. “There are several skeptic states. We’d rather see consensus defined in a pretty clear way. The fact is a majority of states are in favor of the treaty text. However, I expect skeptic states will continue to try to affect the outcome.”