Between July 2 and 27, the world’s nation-states met at the UN headquarters in New York to negotiate an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to regulate the multibillion dollar international trade in conventional arms. Throughout the month most parties supported a new treaty to cover all conventional arms including ammunition, but in the final hours of negotiations, consensus was procedurally blocked by countries that asked for more time - including the U.S., Russia, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela. The following article was published in the September-October 2012 NewsNotes.

The failure to reach consensus on a final text was tremendously disappointing to the hundreds of civil society activists who were present in New York – many for the whole month – in support of a strong, comprehensive treaty. According to Control Arms, a global civil society alliance calling for a “bulletproof Arms Trade Treaty,” the struggle to end the illegal and irresponsible arms trade will go on.

Control Arms alliance member Anna McDonald of Oxfam said: “Some 50,000 people lost their lives through armed violence during the course of these month-long negotiations. The out-of-control arms trade must – and will – be stopped … The majority of governments in the world have agreed that we need tough rules based around international human rights and humanitarian law to bring the arms trade under control. They’ve made a statement today confirming their intent to see a treaty realized. It’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when.’ We will continue campaigning to secure a treaty that will save lives.”

Governments will have a second chance to make the treaty a reality by taking the text forward to the General Assembly in the fall. As this process continues Control Arms will continue its advocacy efforts directed at the countries needing more time – the United States being among them.

The Obama administration helped block final consensus thanks to a campaign by the National Rifle Association (NRA) that falsely portrayed the treaty as a threat to gun ownership rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Apparently motivated by the NRA campaign, a bipartisan group of 51 senators wrote a letter to President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to express serious concerns about the draft treaty, saying it signaled an expansion of gun control that would have been unacceptable.

Faith in action: Write to President Obama and Secretary Clinton expressing your strong support for continued negotiations on a comprehensive ATT. For basic information see Pax Christi International's website. Suggested wording includes:

  • Express deep disappointment that the nations of the world failed to reach consensus on an Arms Trade Treaty in July
  • [If a U.S. citizen/resident] Express special disappointment that the U.S. delegation contributed to that failure.
  • Urge the U.S. delegation to honor the administration’s commitment to an ATT and to contribute to consensus when the UN General Assembly convenes in the fall.
  • Note that each year, millions of people are affected by the direct and indirect consequences of the irresponsible arms trade. Thousands of people are killed, injured, raped, and forced to flee from their homes as a result of irresponsible arms transfers.
  • State that you believe a strong and robust Arms Trade Treaty can reduce the terrible human toll which is a direct consequence of this poorly regulated trade. To be effective, an ATT should establish that no international transfer of arms and ammunition will be authorized if there is a substantial risk that the weapons will be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international human rights or humanitarian law, or will seriously impair poverty reduction or socio-economic development.
  • An effective ATT’s scope should be comprehensive. It should include all international transfers of conventional weapons, in particular small arms and light weapons and equipment used to deploy potentially lethal force in military and internal security operations, and also ammunition.