Arms trade treaty: The final stretch is often the toughest
As part of Team GB for the London Olympics and as an Olympic Silver Medalist for Team GB in 2008, I’m aware of just how hard the final stretch of any major challenge can be. Of course, practice and preparation for the main event are crucial, but I know that at the end it takes every fibre in my body to finish the race as well as I started.
This is why I – along with other Amnesty International supporters – am urging the UK Government to give it all they can in these last few days of crucial negotiations at the United Nations to secure a robust international arms trade treaty.
Having worldwide legislation to regulate the sale, transfer and shipment of all weapons and ammunition seems pretty obvious to me. So I was particularly shocked to learn that at the moment there are currently no globally legally binding controls on the arms trade and transfer of weapons.
The continuing bloodshed across Syria and other parts of the Middle East and North Africa is a chilling illustration of the devastating consequences when governments use weapons against their own people. To me, it’s horrifying to learn that most of these weapons were supplied by some European countries, the USA, and Russia.
A recent Amnesty International report found that many arms exports licensed and delivered to Syria, Libya, Egypt, and Bahrain among others should never have been permitted in the first place since there was already evidence that these countries would use conventional weapons to commit serious human rights violations. Had a robust arms trade treaty been in place, these transfers may never have occurred.
The idea is very simple: an Arms Trade Treaty would stop the transfer of weapons likely to be used to break international law, including human rights law. It wouldn’t be a total ban on selling weapons, just effective and well-enforced controls to try to ensure that they do not fall into the wrong hands, facilitating war crimes and atrocities.
Every day more than 1,500 people die from armed violence and conflict, and two thirds of those are in countries that are not even at war. Sixty per cent of grave human rights abuses reported by Amnesty International involve the use of guns. Hundreds of thousands of people suffer every day from the direct and indirect consequences of the arms trade.
For it to be effective, the Arms Trade Treaty must include all weapons that can be used or adapted for lethal force, including ammunition and components. It must cover all arms transfers including export, import, transit, transhipment, government arranged deals, and those organised by arms brokers – the middle men who often arrange and organise weapons shipments.
It must require all countries to introduce robust laws to control the arms transfers they are involved in. And it is also important that it be transparent: governments should report publicly on arms sales so they can be held to account. It is vital to end the shroud of secrecy around the arms trade.
While the UK has so far shown positive signs of commitment, there are concerns that last minute compromises may lead to a dilution of a robust and effective Arms Trade Treaty.
The USA, currently the world’s number one arms exporting country, had rejected the idea of an arms trade treaty three times before it decided to join the negotiating table in 2008. And now that they are at the table, they are still pushing for the Treaty to include an ‘escape clause’ that would allow national security considerations to override any serious human rights concerns when deciding to supply arms to other countries.
In addition US, China, Egypt and Iran are determined that the Treaty does not include ammunition within its scope.
It’s clear that there is still everything to play for in these last few days, and the UK must continue to be one of the strongest supporters for a robust and effective Arms Trade Treaty in the room.
As an athlete, I understand that the final stretch is often the hardest. But the UK cannot give way at this stage. This Treaty really is a historic, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to bring the global arms trade under effective regulation. I’m counting on the UK and all governments at the UN to deliver the gold standard on the arms trade treaty.Tagged in: amnesty international, arms trade treaty, olympics, united nations, weapons
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