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A Safer Future Is Within Our Grasp - We Will Not Rest Until We Have Secured It

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WILLIAM HAGUE FOREIGN
PA

On average a man, women or child dies every minute as a result of armed violence. Two thirds die in countries that are not officially in conflict. Violence fuelled by illegal arms diverts resources away from schools, healthcare and critical infrastructure. It undermines sustainable development, eats away at stability and robs millions of their future.

To find something that weighs in the balance against such tragedy has been an international goal for some time. So the case for an effective treaty, an arms trade treaty, that will save lives, reduce human suffering and bring consistency to the global trade in conventional arms is overwhelming. There is no more poignant reminder of this than the tragic events in Algeria last month. When terrorists are the beneficiaries of an unfettered proliferation of conventional arms they threaten the security of not just the countries where they seek refuge, but also their neighbours and the rest of the world. It is clear our endeavour is more urgent than ever. And so next month Britain will return to the United Nations determined that, after more than six years of hard work, the international community will conclude a treaty whose legacy will endure for generations to come.

In 2012 we made great progress towards this. In July, along with the majority of UN states, we supported a draft chair's Treaty agreed after intensive negotiations. But we were clear then - as we are now - that to be fully effective, a Treaty needs the widest possible participation and that we should take time to ensure this. That is why our ministers and diplomats have continued their efforts and in November secured overwhelming support for a conference to conclude an Arms Trade Treaty in 2013. 157 Member States pledged their support including the US, China and India. A treaty is now within our grasp and - together with our civil society partners - we must do everything we can to secure it.

There are still some who harbour doubts and have yet to commit fully to a treaty. My message to them is this: history will judge you harshly if you miss this moment. The treaty on the table will not stigmatise the legitimate trade in arms. Instead it will protect it, establishing global commitments on national arms export controls and a baseline for robust controls that ensure countries can defend their citizens without undermining human development.

Its shape is clear. States with little or no regulation would have to introduce legislation and develop export control mechanisms. And, despite the reservations of a few, it should require all to assess arms exports - including small arms and light weapons, ammunition and military parts and components - on the basis of criteria including respect for international humanitarian law and human rights. Where there is an unacceptable risk it should be mandatory to refuse exports.

Yet if these requirements are to be meaningful and effective, a treaty needs to apply globally and the major arms exporters of today and tomorrow must be part of it. Together the United States, Russia and China account for over 50% of the international arms trade. Our endeavour cannot succeed without them and I call on them to work with us to fulfil our moral responsibility to protect the world's most vulnerable.

Therefore, as we look towards negotiations in March, our priority must be to secure agreement on the basis of consensus. We should continue to seek to improve the current text but we must also defend what was won in July and resist unravelling hard fought agreements. Our aim must be to establish the common principles and legally binding framework that will make the world a safer place, that we can implement tirelessly and that we can strengthen in the future.

The ATT will not solve all our problems, but it offers us the chance to take a very significant step forward. A global Arms Trade Treaty that denies rogue states illegal arms will make us all more secure. It will help prevent instability and stop arms reaching terrorists. But more than this it will offer the prospect of a better future to millions who live in the shadow of conflict. This is the prize on offer in March. History will not forgive those who seek to prevent it and we will not rest until we have secured it.

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