Opinion: 2012 – Time for an Arms Trade treaty that will really save lives

This February marks the final United Nations (UN) Preparatory Committee session before the deciding negotiations in July 2012 for a legally binding Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). As this critical moment approaches, we need to call on our Party Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg to support the strongest possible Treaty.

The historic decision made in 2009 to negotiate a legally binding Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) by the UN was predicated on calls from more than a million people across the world. They argued for the arms trade to be brought under control and for governments to take their responsibility more seriously.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was one of the first signatories to an Interfaith Declaration – supported by religious leaders from all the major faiths. The declaration states that ‘the world’s leaders have a moral responsibility to ensure’ that a strong Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is negotiated and signed within an international legal framework.

As the ‘Arab Spring’ unfolds in front of our very eyes on television screens, governments across the Middle East and North Africa are using lethal and uncompromising force to stop protestors calling for human rights and democratic reforms.

Research conducted by Amnesty International shows that the majority of weapons, munitions and armaments are bought from USA, Russia and European countries.

Look across the troubled region and you will see riot police and security forces using firearms, shotguns, live ammunition, rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannons and armoured vehicles to suppress legitimate protests and demonstrations.

Grad rockets, mortars, artillery, heavy weaponry and tanks have been used in densely populated civilian areas in Libya and are still being deployed with merciless results in Syria. It is estimated that over 250 civilians have just been killed recently by government forces shelling homes and public places in Homs in Syria.

The main arms suppliers to Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Syria between 2005 and 2010 were France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the UK and USA.

The treaty will only work if it is strong, comprehensive and watertight whilst backed by bold political will.

As expected, there are some countries which support greater controls and others who wish to see a lot of flexibility. This is largely split between the emerging nations and large scale arms exporters such as the USA, China and Russia – all of whom prefer weaker controls covering a stricter and more defined range of weapons.

The influential role of the UK therefore as a major arms exporter is in the spotlight – the time has come for our Government to consider whether our presence within this industry is either part of the solution or part of the problem. Where do we as Liberal Democrats stand on this issue?

Getting this treaty right will make history – it is about grasping the opportunity to protect human rights, upholding human dignity and saving hundreds of thousands of lives across the globe.

* Issan Ghazni is Chair of the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats and former National Diversity Adviser for the Liberal Democrats. Issan blogs here

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3 Comments

  • Daniel Henry 6th Feb '12 - 4:14pm

    Yes. Definitely.
    I think this is the kind of thing that could appeal to David Cameron and at a time when both parties are seeking more differentiation, this would be a great opportunity for them to remind people of the “working together to achieve great things” part of coalition too!

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