1995. Toy Story was released, Bill Clinton was President, the UN intervened in Bosnia, and a group of Nobel Peace Laureates began a campaign for responsible global regulation of the movement of weapons.
Seventeen years later, and the world is on the brink of securing an international Arms Trade Treaty. In 2006 the UN General Assembly adopted the resolution to create the treaty establishing standards for the import, export and transfer of arms. In July, world leaders will meet with the UN in New York to negotiate the final terms of the treaty.
This is where the danger lies. If the treaty agreed upon is weak and ineffective, there may not be another chance in our lifetimes to negotiate a strong and effective one that safeguards people's human rights and helps prevent arms violence being profited from. Here are some frustrating truths:
- Every day 1500 people die because of armed violence (that's roughly 1 every minute), two thirds of those deaths take place in countries in 'peace'. Many more people are injured and oppressed by fear.
- Some of the weapons that were used against Iraqis under Saddam Hussein came from UK and US companies. They knew he was committing atrocious acts against his people, but the weapons were sold to him anyway. Other dictators, such as Gaddafi, are suspected of using weapons from similar sources.
- Each year two bullets are manufactured for every one person on the planet, so there's enough ammunition in circulation to kill us all twice.
- At the moment it is far harder to internationally trade bananas than it is arms, because bananas are the real evil we need to protect citizens of the earth from.
While I am under no illusion that armed violence would be eradicated if a tight treaty was successfully negotiated, it would save many lives if weapons became much harder to get hold of, and countries that supposedly support peace and democracy would have to cease arming dictators, which is disgraceful.
Our party is behind achieving a robust arms trade treaty. Nick Clegg wrote this article for The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/nick-clegg-we-can-lead-from-the-front-in-disarming-7174368.html In it he says 'we'll lead the charge for a robust, legally-binding treaty, covering all conventional weapons... We'll press states who sign up to block sales that fuel conflict or fail to meet the treaty's obligations on human rights. And we want states to demonstrate they're meeting their commitments.' In other parties, Ed Milliband commented that 'Labour believes that it is vital that a robust and effective global arms trade treaty is negotiated this year with comprehensive scope and robust parameters'. William Hague said that the 'UK government remains totally committed to securing a robust and effective arms trade treaty, with strong humans rights and international law provisions at its core'. These statements are promising, but David Cameron has yet to publicly pledge his support to getting a strong treaty. We really need him on our side so that the coalition can present a united front in calling for a bullet-proof treaty, and hopefully influence other countries into stepping up. Failure to do could could let armed conflict continue at its current shocking level.
So how can we help secure a robust treaty that makes a real positive difference to people around the world? Lets start by lobbying David Cameron to push for a treaty commitment. Amnesty International has a petition to do so here http://protectthehuman.amnesty.org.uk/petition_actions/disarm-dictators and Oxfam has one here http://www.oxfam.org.uk/get-involved/campaign-with-us/find-an-action/cameron-arms-trade-treaty. Only takes a minute and could make a big difference. Also, Oxfam and Control Arms have an innovative campaign of leaving messages on bananas around the country to point out the ridiculousness of bananas vs. arms trade ease mentioned above, so you could easily join in with that (take a picture and tweet it to Oxfam and the world). Amnesty groups around the country have yet to finalise their campaign plans for June but they will most likely involve getting petition signatures from the public and banana-related stunts, so if you are interested in being part of this then email me (Ab.Brightman@live.co.uk) with your location/location you're willing to travel to and I'll try and hook you up with a group to get out their and win us a fantastic treaty. It's so important. I myself will be campaigning with the Milton Keynes group and hopefully some London ones, so if you're in the area it'd be great to work with you on this.
If you want to have an in-depth look at what each country making up the treaty stands for and against this http://armstreaty.org/index.php is a really good resource. There's also lots of information available on the mentioned organisations' websites if you want to know more.
At the time of writing, there's only 66 days left until the final treaty is decided. We can do this.