An Arms Trade Treaty Is Necessary and Possible

Governments are meeting this month in New York to discuss a crucial treaty that could save thousands of lives. The Arms Trade Treaty that is, aka ATT. NGOs are here too, talking to every single government, making sure that we get the best possible deal and that official negotiations for a possible ATT are launched in 2010.

Negotiators will tell us, again and again, that it cannot be done. That the proliferation of conventional weapons cannot be controlled through a global negotiated effort. That we have to live with automatic guns and other weapons of mass misery traveling from conflict to conflict, without effective controls, with a trail of death and destruction among defenseless civilians.

I remember the same was said when the efforts to curb the scourge of landmines and cluster bombs started. But like-minded governments and civil society made inter-governmental agreements possible that may signal the beginning of the end for those horrific types of arms.

Controlling the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, and other conventional arms, will be a different struggle -- more difficult, but equally if not more important than banning anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions. Even though there has been a marked decline in wars since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the number of violent attacks against civilians has continued at intolerable levels. Parties to conflict have again and again demonstrated a willful disregard for the basic tenets of the humanitarian law of armed conflict. As other perpetrators of armed violence and crime show no respect for international human rights law.

I have seen, first hand, how mass murderers, militias and mafias in the Middle East, in Latin America, in Asia, in Europe, and in Africa never lack the tools to maim, kill and terrorize civilians. There is an overflow of government sponsored and private illegal armies, ethnic militias and non-state guerrilla forces. And they are supplied as never before with lethal weapons by reckless states in the North, and increasingly in recent years from the South.

Only a forceful, unambiguous and verifiable convention can control transfers and do away with the networks of illegal arms brokers that supply our generation's weapons of mass killings and mass misery.

To follow more on the negotiations this week at the UN: