I don’t normally give a lot of attention to specific causes – I work on the basis that people in the field are far better at handling these matters and answering questions. But later this week, the United Nations will be considering a General Assembly resolution to open the way for an arms trade treaty. For those not in the know, small arms are basically anything a soldier can carry, ranging from pistols and shotguns through rifles, automatic weapons and even some types of launchers. The significance of this relates to the unregulated trade of small arms such as AK-47s in world trouble spots. The fact that companies from mainly western countries supply these to pretty much anyone on the open market has kept many fires blazing all over the world.
Governments have tended to turn a blind eye to things their companies do in the developing world – I need only remind Australians of the Kilwa incident in the Congo, the Esmerelda mine in Romania as well as incidents involving Australian staples Rio Tinto and BHP in the near-Pacific, not to mention the unfolding story of AWB’s dealings with Iraq where an arm of the government may have assisted in breaches of UN sanctions, to emphasise that the Australian government (irrespective of party) is often fairly blasé about its companies’ behaviour in less regulated parts of the world. There is less international regulation on small arms than there is on wheat, coal or sugar.
The impact of a supplier country pulling their support can be seen in my homeland of Northern Ireland, and also in Israel/Palestine, where one side suddenly realised peace was in its best interests when its means of fighting a protracted war evaporated due to the sudden termination of overseas support. One only needs to look at Sudan, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and some former parts of the Soviet Union to see the worst that can happen – Amnesty claims 1,000 people are dying per day as a result of unregulated small arms.
The measure is being supported by Britain, not to mention a heap of well-respected Nobel laureates, and France is now on board (important as France is/was the largest trader in these items), but the US, Russia and China, whose corporate interests earn quite a fair amount from the trade, are all opposed to it. Nevertheless, it is likely to pass with majority support in the General Assembly, with Britain saying it has the support of 107 of the UN’s 192 member states, with a vote on a finished treaty likely in 2008.
Amnesty International is one of the key drivers of this campaign, as part of the joint Control Arms campaign. Their secretary-general told the Guardian newspaper, “It is crunch time at the UN. Governments should take a historic step to stop irresponsible and immoral arms transfers by voting to develop a treaty that will prevent the death, rape and displacement of thousands of people.” They have been essential in getting many smaller countries on board with this.
I am already supporting Amnesty International but I urge you all to support them either by making others aware of this campaign, or by making donations to them, so that they can ensure that any carried vote is actually enforced and doesn’t go the route of so many other well-intentioned plans (NPT or START I, anyone?)
Amnesty Australia’s page on the campaign is here.