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Thursday, April 17, 2014
- The European Parliament sent a bold message to the world last week with its comprehensive and ambitious resolution to put an end to the illicit global arms trade. But analysts regret the new resolution ignores several key factors, such as the impact of the arms trade on the socio-economic development of recipient countries, and the involvement of civil society in future negotiations.
Next month member states will gather at the United Nations headquarters in New York to negotiate the first binding Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), a potentially ground-breaking humanitarian treaty regulating international trade in conventional weapons. Currently, there is no universal set of rules controlling the global arms trade.
According to several analysts the poorly-regulated market fuels armed conflicts and causes unnecessary human suffering. In order to address the problem, Nobel Peace laureates like the Dalai Lama, Betty Williams, Elie Wiesel and José Ramos- Horta – supported by international NGOs – have been actively advocating a binding global agreement since 1997.
According to data gathered by Control Arms, a global civil society alliance, one million of the eight million firearms produced every year are lost or stolen. As many as 747,000 people are killed in armed violence annually, while ten times that number are injured.
In March of this year the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute published a report showing that deliveries of conventional weapons to states in Africa had increased by an average of 110 percent during the last ten years. Deliveries to sub-Saharan Africa increased by 20 percent, while deliveries to North Africa increased by 273 percent.
The European Parliament voted Wednesday on the resolution the EU will propose at the upcoming U.N. conference. The text underlined Europe’s tremendous responsibility in the global arms trade, since EU member states account for about 30 percent of all arms exports and are among the world’s leading arms manufacturers.
The resolution also stressed that the new U.N. treaty should cover “the widest possible spectrum of conventional weapons, including small arms and light weapons and all aspects and activities of trade.”
The Parliament called for the establishment of a U.N. support unit to monitor and report on global arms exchanges while tracing possible breaches of the treaty.
Furthermore, the European Parliament wants the ATT to include strong provisions requiring states to report on all arms transfer decisions and keep records for up to 20 years. Stringent anti-corruption and transparency mechanisms would also be necessary since, according to recent estimates, the arms trade accounts for almost 40 percent of corruption in all world trade.
But according to experts, some key provisions have slipped through cracks in the ambitious text.
“Although this resolution is a strong (first step), we feel disappointed that it failed to highlight the need not to undermine the socio-economic development of recipient countries,” Nicolas Vercken, Oxfam’s advocacy officer on arms transfer control in Paris, told IPS.
Wim Zwijnenburg, advocacy officer on disarmament at IKV-Pax Christi in Amsterdam, added that the EU currently forbids “export (of arms) to states where socio-economic development is low but government spending is high. This criterion has disappeared from the new resolution”, likely because the European Parliament fears several non-EU countries will not accept such a provision at the upcoming U.N. meet.
Countries against the clause, usually major arms exporters or repressive regimes, claim the policy of forbidding export to economically underdeveloped countries is ‘neocolonial’, Zwijnenburg said – an argument that masks a desire to continue selling or acquiring weapons at virtually any cost.
“Exporting countries like Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Russia, China and India are against (this clause) because they want to protect their arms trade. Recipient countries like Zimbabwe, Syria and Egypt are against the clause because of their constant need for new weaponry. But most sub-Saharan states are in favour of the criterion,” he added.
Another troubling aspect of the resolution is that it fails to mention the involvement of civil society during future arms trade negotiations. “When an arms trade deal is discussed between two nations, countries like the United States or the United Kingdom have the capacity to bring a team of ten people to the talks, including economic and legal advisors,” Zwijnenburg said.
“Most African states don’t have this capacity. That’s why we need to involve civil society in these negotioations: to be able to support the poorest states, states that are in fact mostly developing nations suffering from conflict. The new resolution makes no mention of this. Considering the fact that NGOs started the process for a treaty in the first place, it would be a pity if we (are) to be excluded from now on,” he stressed.
Despite these flaws, experts are cautiously optimistic about the European resolution and the upcoming U.N. talks. “We’re going for gold,” Vercken told IPS. “Ten years ago nobody would have dared to dream we would have gotten this far, that we would have all states on board and heading for an international agreement.”
“But we know some states only want a weak or dysfunctional treaty. It is going to be tough. And if it turns out we are heading towards a weak treaty, we will remind the negotiating states we would rather have no treaty than a weak treaty. Because a weak treaty would do nothing else but legitimise current (efforts to regulate the arms market),” he added.