On October 21, the UN General Assembly’s Disarmament and International Security Committee received the report of the commissioned Group of Government Experts that examined the feasibility, scope and parameters of a global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The ATT is a new legal regime in the making that will determine whether or not we can expect in the next decades more loose firearms killing or maiming more people around the world.
To drum up support for the ATT, parliamentarians from 124 countries passed a declaration. Parliamentarians Ibrahim Toure from Mali, Ana Theresia Hontiveros-Baraquel from the Philippines and Gagan Thapa from Nepal handed over to the UN Committee the declaration signed by some 2,000 legislators from around the world.
The effort to have an international convention regulating the arms trade was inspired by a group of Nobel Peace Laureates convened by former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias to address the bane of the most common lethal weapons around. On our end, the Philippine Action Network on Small Arms (PhilANSA) has been actively lobbying for the support of governments to an ATT. PhilANSA is a member of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) which together with Oxfam and Amnesty International lead the Control Arms campaign.
These proponents of an ATT do not seek to ban nor impose a new normative framework on arms. But they want an ATT that obligates states to regulate the transfer of arms by requiring states to issue authorization for any transaction across national borders, and to report to an International Registry annually on international arms transfers from or through their respective territories.
Currently, reporting to the UN Register of Conventional Arms is voluntary. Only 36 countries have sent reports to the two-year old body, which this year tallied the movement of nearly 2.1 million exported and more than 280,000 imported small arms and light weapons. How much bigger the recorded transfers would be under compulsory registration!
The Control Arms campaign also wants to set standards on what transfers may or may not be allowed. To be prohibited are arms that might be used to violate human rights and international humanitarian law standards. Under an ATT, states would need to know and evaluate who and for what purpose and to what effect the goods will be used.
States, as the regulating agency, will have to check the recipient’s record of compliance with commitments to non-proliferation standards and transparency before they authorize the sale. In addition, exporting states would need to take into account the impact of the transferred weapon on the sustainable development, regional peace and security, or the commission of violent crimes in the recipient countries.
In addition, Transparency International wants anti-corruption provisions in place in the treaty, arguing that corruption facilitates the circumvention of controls.
All these mean that, under an ATT, arms producers cannot be like the milk manufacturers in China who sell melamine-tainted milk to babies all over the world and not care how many of these children die of kidney failure or other illnesses. States too would have to ensure that their arms manufacturers are accountable to the victims of their goods, in the same manner that the world now demands more stringent Chinese government regulation of their enterprises’ notoriously unsafe consumer products.
What arms will be put under global control of an ATT?
Covered are “small arms” like revolvers and self-loading pistols, rifles and carbines, sub-machine guns, assault rifles and light machine guns. In countries without strict firearms law, these small arms are in fact ordinary consumer products that can be bought over the counter in malls or alley shops (just think, you’d need a prescription to buy certain medicines but in many countries, any adult can enter a gun shop and exit fully armed).
Also to be regulated are the movement of “light weapons” like heavy machine guns; hand held-under barrel and mounted grenade launchers; portable anti-aircraft guns, portable anti-tank guns, recoilless rifles; portable launchers of anti-tank missile and rocket systems; portable launchers of anti-aircraft systems; and mortars of calibers less than 100 mm.
Ammunition and explosives including cartridges for small arms and shells and missiles for light weapons; mobile containers with missiles or shells for single action anti-aircraft and anti-tank systems, anti-personnel and anti-tank hand grenades; landmines; and explosives are also covered.
According to the Arms Control Association, the US arms manufactures have been the world’s top conventional arms seller since the end of the Cold War. Global arms sales the last eight years up to 2007 reached $123.5 billion. Russia was a poor second with a sales tally of $54 billion.
These arms are commonly used during warfare. But small arms, in particular, proliferate even in non-war condition. They are being used responsibly and irresponsibly, legally and illegally. The Claudio Teehankee, Jr. and Rolito Go cases are striking examples of the irresponsible use of small arms that have been resuscitated in our memory by the recent pardon accorded Teehankee.
The ATT will not completely prevent irresponsible use, but effective implementation will at least prevent illegal transfers, the clientele for which are people who are more wont to use the arms for insidious ends and with little regard for law or the life of others.