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UN conference on Arms Trade Treaty begins

Delegates from 193 countries travelled to New York today for the opening day of the month-long gathering.

Image: Bullit Marquez/AP/Press Association Images

DELEGATES FROM 193 countries and 589 non-government organisations have gathered in New York today for a United Nations conference on the Arms Trade Treaty.

Negotiations on conventional arms regulation are set to continue through 27 July with an aim to draft a robust treaty to minimise the affect of armed conflict for millions of people confronted with insecurity, deprivation and fear across the world.

The arms industry is worth up to $70 billion per year but the UN says that the annual global burden of armed violence has reached $400 billion. Over 750,000 deaths are caused by arms-related incidents each year and illegal trading also impacts food security and displacement.

According to the UN, almost all international trade in goods is regulated but no globally agreed standards exist for the international arms trade.

The result can be the misuse of weaponry by government forces or the diversion of arms into illegal markets, where they end up in the hands of criminals, gangs, war lords and terrorists.

“A dire consequence of inadequate controls on arms transfers and the ensuing widespread availability and misuse of weapons is the frequent obstruction of life-saving humanitarian operations,” the UN says.

Throughout its campaign over the past decade, Amnesty International has noted that there are more rules for the exporting of fruit than guns.

Threats and actual attacks against humanitarian aid workers have increased in the past two decades. Between 2000 and 2010, around 800 humanitarian workers were killed in armed attacks and another 700 were injured.

In 2009, the UN decided a Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty should be held in 2012 to “elaborate a legally binding instrument on the highest possible common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms”.

Four preparatory committee meetings have already taken place and submissions received from member states.

As well as government representatives, this month’s conference will also be attended by non- and inter-governmental organisations, public interest groups and companies from the arms industry.

The UN says its Arms Trade Treaty will aim to create a level playing field for international arms transfers by requiring all States to abide by a set of standards for transfer controls, which will ultimately benefit the safety and security of people everywhere in the world.

It will not interfere with the domestic arms trade and the way a country regulates civilian possession. It will also not ban or prohibit the export of any type of weapons.

Any treaty will not impair a nation’s legitimate right to self-defence or lower arms regulation standards in countries where these are already at a high level.

Despite these promises, there are still reservations from certain countries and arms exporters.

Ireland’s stance

In its preparatory statement ahead of the conference, Ireland said it aligns itself fully with the position of the EU.

“The treaty should be a legally binding instrument regulating all transboundary transactions. It should underline the obligations of State parties under international human rights law and international humanitarian law, and should stress that disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control are essential for the maintenance of international peace and security,” it said.

Ireland believes small arms and light weapons and ammunition should be covered by the treaty. Other countries disagree. The US want to see ammunition omitted, while China want ammunition and small weapons left out.

More: EU Parliament calls for tighter regulation of arms trade>

Read: Ireland and the arms trade – what needs to change?

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