THE BLOG

Inside the Historic Global Treaty to Regulate the $85Billion Arms Trade

24/06/2013 17:23 BST | Updated 24/08/2013 10:12 BST

On 3 June in the UN in New York a lot of delegates could be seen wearing "I Made History" stickers. They were attending the official Arms Trade Treaty Signing Ceremony, and the stickers were distributed by the Control Arms Coalition, the campaign movement that has been working to secure a global treaty to control the arms trade.

Ten years ago, when I, along with colleagues from many countries around the world launched the Control Arms campaign, we had a simple message for governments: the arms trade is out of control and ordinary people around the world are suffering at the rate of one death every minute, with millions more forced from their homes, suffering abuse and impoverishment.

We had an idea and a vision to create a global treaty to bring the conventional arms trade under control, to make governments take responsibility for every arms transfer that enters or leaves their territory and to put human rights and humanitarian law, not profit, at the heart of every decision.

It's been a long road to get here, but now the world has that treaty. There have been many stages since we persuaded the UN to begin work on the treaty in 2006 - UN consultations, open-ended working groups, groups of government experts, preparatory committees, regional meetings, resolutions every year at the General Assembly to move things forward.

We've driven tanks around London, ridden camels in Mali and rowed dragon boats in Cambodia to raise awareness. We've run workshops and seminars in 100 countries to deepen knowledge and explore ideas and we've analysed papers, suggested treaty text, and worked hours into the night to turn a weak text into a stronger one.

The power of campaigning by ordinary people has sent a clear message to unscrupulous arms dealers, dictators and human rights abusers - your days of easy access to weapons and ammunition are over. The world is watching, and the world will hold you to account.

The most powerful argument for the ATT has always been the call of millions who have suffered armed violence around the world. Their suffering is the reason we have campaigned for more than a decade. Now the words are on the paper, we need the action on the ground so this becomes a treaty about saving lives.

Sixty-seven states signed the Arms Trade Treaty on the first day of signing, with many more, including the United States, pledging to do so as soon as possible. That's more than a third of UN member states, and a really great start to the treaty, which was adopted at the General Assembly only two months ago.

The treaty will become international law after 50 states have ratified it, and at this rate of signature and promises for swift work to achieve ratification in each country, we could see this happen in less than two years.

Last month an international debate began over sale of arms to Syria showing just how urgent the Arms Trade Treaty is.

Since the beginning of the conflict, Syria has continued to import weapons systems such as helicopters, fighter jets, Surface to Air Missiles, ammunition, and munitions. In 2010, for example, Syria imported more than $1m worth of small arms and light weapons, ammunition, and other munitions. There is evidence that some of these arms have played a central role in the Syrian government's crackdown on protesters during 2011.

In addition to small arms ammunition, the Syrian military has used air-delivered incendiary bombs in at least four locations across Syria since mid-November 2012 according to Human Rights Watch. And while there isn't evidence of armed groups using weapons to systematically target civilians, UN inquiries and international human rights groups have found that some opposition forces have themselves committed war crimes and serious human rights abuses.

Nearly two years of war has killed more than 80,000 people and almost seven million people inside the country are in dire need of humanitarian aid. The Arms Trade Treaty will not reverse history in Syria but the past shows us that it could prevent the fuelling of future conflicts.

So the campaign continues because for the treaty to achieve its full potential, implementation must begin in earnest.

Change does not happen only in the UN or parliaments, it starts from workplaces, schools, universities, and our own homes. When we refuse to take no for an answer, and keep going and when we really believe there is an idea worth fighting for. When you have that, set-backs along the way are no defeat, and differences in opinion are opportunities to build on.

Thank you to all around the world who campaigned with us to make this happen.