Landslide UN vote in favour of developing an Arms Trade Treaty

One hundred and forty-seven states voted overwhelmingly at the United Nations on Friday to move forward with work on the main elements of an Arms Trade Treaty. Only two countries voted against – the USA and Zimbabwe.

“This big UN vote moves the world closer to an Arms Trade Treaty that could include respect for human rights at its heart,” said Brian Wood from Amnesty International. “That is the only way such a treaty can really help stop the widespread carnage and abuse from armed violence.  But there are still sceptics and opponents.”

The Control Arms campaign, made up of Amnesty International, the International Action Network on Small Arms and Oxfam International, welcomed the vote but called for more urgency from states in moving the process forward to ensure a strong Treaty with international human rights law, international humanitarian law and sustainable development at its heart.

The increasingly global consensus in favour of the treaty is likely to be reflected again at the General Assembly in December. The large “yes” vote was particularly strong in Africa, South and Central America and Europe indicating demand for arms control both from countries severely affected by armed violence and from major exporters.

Twelve states in the Middle East abstained. Only the US and Zimbabwe governments voted against the ATT resolution, which Brian Wood said was them “turning their backs on the overwhelming majority in an unprincipled stand against a Treaty that would save so many lives and livelihoods.”

Every day, over 1000 people are killed directly with firearms and many thousands more die indirectly as a consequence of armed violence or are driven from their homes, forced off their land, raped, tortured or maimed. Since the UN process started in December 2006, approximately 700,000 people have been killed directly with firearms, illustrating the urgent need for a treaty.

Amnesty International invited two senior military officers to brief the UN in New York – Rt Brig Gen Mujahid Alam from Pakistan who has served the UN in the DRC and Kosovo, and Lt Colonel John Ochai of Nigeria, who was chief of Operations in the African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur, Sudan.

Rt Brig Alam told UN officials that: “From the study of DRC, it is proven that violations of arms embargo are frequent and ongoing. The complicity of governments in the region is the most critical aspect in the illicit proliferation of small arms and light weapons.

“UN arms embargoes are sometimes needed but unless we have an effective Arms Trade Treaty and establish common standards, the embargoes will neither be respected nor effectively enforced.”

The new UN decision is that the principles of the UN Charter and other state obligations must be considered as central to any Treaty. The UN will set up a series of up to six meetings of all states – called an Open Ended Working Group – to discuss the potential scope and principles of an Arms Trade Treaty.