The Arms Trade Treaty Is Historic - But There Is Still Work to Do

The numbers say it all: 154 states voted for the Treaty and only thre voted against - Iran, Syria and North Korea - the same three that blocked the adoption of the Treaty by consensus at the end of last week's Diplomatic Conference.

The world is rightly celebrating this week's historic and ground-breaking achievement in securing an international, legally-binding Arms Trade Treaty. This is the first arms control Treaty adopted by the UN since the Comprehensive (Nuclear) Test Ban Treaty in 1996. As the prime minister said: "We should be proud of the role Britain has played to secure this ambitious agreement, working with international partners to secure this momentous step that will make our world safer for all."

It is important that we recognise the efforts of all the governments, NGOs and defence industry representatives who supported the process, working with us to find ways adequately to address all the key issues. Not insignificant either has been the strong public interest expressed to MPs via their constituents. I would echo the UN Secretary-General's comment that "The adoption of this Treaty demonstrates the great things that can be achieved when governments and civil society work together through the United Nations."

The numbers say it all: 154 states voted for the Treaty and only thre voted against - Iran, Syria and North Korea - the same three that blocked the adoption of the Treaty by consensus at the end of last week's Diplomatic Conference. Despite that setback, the overwhelming will was there to deliver a lasting change in the way we regulate the international arms trade.

We should remind ourselves of what the Treaty has the potential to deliver. It can save lives by improving the regulation of flows of weapons, reducing the risk of destabilising societies, states and regions. It will promote sustainable development and stability by enabling resources to reach schools, healthcare services, and critical infrastructure. It can reduce human rights abuses and suffering by requiring governments not to authorise arms exports if there is an unacceptable risk that they could be used to violate human rights or international humanitarian law. It can help to combat terrorism and crime by steadily reducing the unfettered proliferation of weapons which threaten the security of not only the countries where terrorists base themselves, but also their neighbours and the rest of the world.

The Treaty will protect the legitimate arms trade, and will still allow states to access and acquire weaponry for their legitimate self-defence, whilst at the same time helping to ensure that this legitimate process is not circumvented, abused or exploited by unscrupulous arms traders who care little for the pain and suffering they inflict.

An Arms Trade Treaty will not solve all the issues of illicit arms but it does offer the prospect of a better future to millions who live in the shadow of conflict.

So as we celebrate the conclusion of the Arms Trade Treaty, our minds have already turned to what needs to happen next - because we did not work for seven years just to produce a piece of paper.

We have campaigned for this Treaty on the basis that the world needs robust, legally-binding criteria for a trade that had avoided effective regulation for too long. We have worked closely with civil society, industry and governments to ensure our proposals were feasible and practical. The Treaty needed to strike a balance between effective provisions and global support, and it has struck that balance. We have achieved much more than many thought possible and have created a rigorous basis from which to move forward.

Now we start a new task together - putting the Treaty into effect. Only when exporters and importers implement its provisions with care and vigour will it start to bring the benefits in safety, security and prosperity needed by so many. The first steps will be procedural - signature and ratification. The Treaty will open for signature on 3 June 2013, and we will be encouraging as many states as possible to sign up, signalling their commitment to bring the Treaty into force as soon as possible.

Thereafter the main work will be for governments to introduce or raise the standards of their national systems to regulate international weapons transfers to at least the minimum laid down by the Treaty. Some may go further. We are proud of our rigorous national and EU standards and will be offering advice to others on how to put similar measures in place. We expect that other major responsible exporters will also be willing to guide and mentor states as they develop systems to ensure the transparent, responsible regulation and management of weapons flows. We must recognise that these changes will take time and that parliamentary and consultative processes need to take place. But we will encourage states to make this a priority. The world has already waited too long for this process and we should not lose the momentum gained.

Whilst we should recognise the historic achievement of a potentially world-changing Treaty, we are painfully aware that there is much more work to do to ensure that law and human rights are put at the heart of global arms export licensing. That will only come when the Treaty is signed, ratified and put into action. As with its creation, the UK government will continue to play a leading role.


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