A bullet proof Arms Trade Treaty
After many years of campaigning and talking, negotiations for a global Arms Trade Treaty enter the final lap in July. Jill Evans MEP says it’s time to end the situation where arms can be traded more easily than bananas.
The ongoing crisis in Syria has shown us how ineffective a UN arms embargo actually is: if Russia and China are happy to supply a regime with weapons, then the embargo is meaningless. The global trade in conventional weapons – from warships and battle tanks to fighter jets and machine guns – remains poorly regulated. No set of internationally agreed standards exists. There are more international laws regulating the trade in bananas than in weapons. Meanwhile, 1,500 people are killed every day in conflict and armed violence.
The international peace movement has long campaigned for a treaty to regulate the global arms trade. We need a robust treaty which would oblige its signatories to deny exports of arms where there is a risk of a violation of international laws. Finally, such an international treaty will be negotiated by the United Nations next month. Preparations for the talks began in 1996 but the United States continually blocked progress until President Obama came to power.
Earlier this month, the European Parliament adopted its resolution on the negotiations. The resolution is intended to encourage the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Commissioner Catherine Ashton and her team, who are already in New York for the talks. Commissioner Ashton said in a plenary session in Strasbourg that “urgent action is needed” and acknowledged the European Parliament’s role in the momentous decisions that could be taken over the next few weeks. Plaid Cymru’s group in the European Parliament – the Greens/European Free Alliance Group – secured some important concessions in this resolution. Crucially, it calls for items which can also be used for civilian purposes to be covered by the treaty. This is important because most goods produced today have the same technical components so the distinction between military and civilian security items is becoming increasingly blurred. We also managed to include a call for strong anti-corruption mechanisms.
Of course, I would prefer the UK government to cease trading arms completely. The trade causes misery and suffering to millions of people throughout the world, not just when used in war but because they swallow up funds which could be used instead for vital services such as food production, education and health. Plaid Cymru has called for companies that produce arms to be economically encouraged to transfer to new industries. We have always stated that the producers of arms have a responsibility to pay for the damage and suffering that they create. I have spoken at numerous anti-war rallies, highlighting these concerns. But while the trade exists, damage limitation must take place. In our manifesto for the last European election, we called for effective European action on the international arms trade, including a new treaty and binding code of conduct restricting arms exports, as well as a complete ban on land mines, cluster bombs and white phosphorous.
I am one of almost 1,500 elected members across the world who signed the Control Arms Global Parliamentary Declaration on the Arms Trade Treaty. This declaration will be handed over to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in a formal ceremony in New York on July 3rd. It supports the negotiation process and calls for a robust, legally binding instrument. Momentum is building; let’s hope for the right result in New York.
Jill Evans MEP
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