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Race Against Time for an Arms Trade Treaty

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With just a week remaining to secure a vitally needed, strong and robust Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), the negotiations hang in the balance. The ATT, as it is commonly known, was launched in 2006 when 153 governments voted at the United Nations to start work on developing a global arms deal to regulate the trade and transfer of conventional weapons.

In 2009, the UN General Assembly launched a time frame for the negotiations of the ATT, and we are now at the final negotiating conference, where a treaty will be created. Hopefully.

The Control Arms coalition, which includes Oxfam and dozens of other NGOs, is calling on the member states to deliver a strong and effective ATT to help save lives, prevent human rights abuses and protect the livelihoods of people around the world.

We are calling for a Treaty to be an international, legally binding instrument based on States' existing obligations under international law. It must establish binding criteria for analyzing international arms transfers on a case-by-case basis, and clearly determine when an arms transfer is prohibited. In practice, this should mean that a transfer of weapons will be stopped if there is evidence that the weapons are likely to be used for grave violations of international human rights, humanitarian law or will adversely affect sustainable development.

With less than one week to go, a number of progressive States are leading the charge, but a small minority are still trying to hamper things at every turn. A vast majority of States, such as Norway, Mexico and Kenya, are striving alongside campaigners and NGOs to secure the strongest possible Treaty, with a strong humanitarian dimension. But there are a smaller group of States who, whilst mildly supportive of a Treaty, are attempting to make damaging changes that would weaken the Treaty, such as removing ammunition or strong language on denying exports under certain criteria.

Finally there are States which, whilst unlikely to sign themselves up to any finished product, are trying to weaken any deal as much as they are able to.

Despite the enormous challenges being faced, optimism remains. In the last week we have seen some significant improvements in proposed sections, such as on the scope of a future ATT (what would the treaty cover), which as it stands covers everything from tanks to ammunition.

Even so, there are still significant omissions, such as consistent language that States "shall not" transfer weapons under the most serious criteria under the Treaty, or language on preventing corruption. In other areas language has been much too weak and much too flimsy for anyone to take seriously.

'A Short Film About Guns' examines the illegal arms trade and how it functions across the globe. Directed by Minos Papas

As the final date of the Conference on July 27 gets ever closer, there is an increasing willingness by States to aim at compromise to achieve a treaty. What is certain, though, is that States must not use the 'spectre' of consensus to conclude the conference with a weak treaty. At the moment, some are pushing 'compromise' or 'flexible' positions that are 'take or leave it', not allowing for much further negotiation. At the same time, a number of other States have demanded that the treaty not enter into force without the "major exporters and importers" (without giving a definition), or proposing a very high number of ratifications.

This merely serves to enhance the power of a select few States to decide on the final text of the treaty. Although a treaty with all 193 Member States signed up would be preferable, this must not be at the expense of a worthwhile treaty. A strong treaty can always achieve more signatures; a weak treaty will rarely be strengthened.

The ATT was never thought of as a just a 'trade' treaty, but a treaty whose objective must be to help prevent human suffering by preventing transfers including leading to serious violations of International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law.

As the negotiations approach their final week, States must be bold and brave in pushing for a strong treaty including these components.

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