Politics of Poverty

“Everyone thought we were crazy”: History made as Arms Trade Treaty agreed

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(Or why Oxfam staff celebrated a champagne toast last week)

History was made on April 2nd as the Arms Trade Treaty—the first agreement to control global arms sales—received an resounding majority ‘yes’ vote at the United Nations in New York (154 votes YES, 3 votes NO, 23 Abstentions).

Photo: Rankin

This momentous Treaty is the culmination of more than ten years of diplomatic negotiations and campaigning to rein in the irresponsible trade in arms that causes so much human suffering. It could not have happened without the work of Oxfam supporters, and immense efforts from Control Arms partners and governments around the world.

The United States, which was a late supporter of the Arms Trade Treaty effort and blocked consensus in the July 2012 negotiations, voted yes on the agreement and supported strong treaty provisions. The Agreement requires countries to put human rights and humanitarian law at the center of arms trade decisions. Among other things, the treaty:

  • Requires states to assess the risk of arms being used to “commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law,” and, if significant, not to authorize the transfer;
  • Bans exports of both arms and ammunition when the export knows the arms would be used for “genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, attacks directed against civilian objects or civilians, or other war crimes”;
  • Requires that countries adopt a comprehensive regime of controlling the import, export, transit, and brokering of arms; and
  • Includes transparency measures requiring countries to report on their arms transfers.

Though we took a moment to revel at the Oxfam America offices, there’s still more work to be done. The resounding applause and loud cheers that rang out from the UN General Assembly Hall last week is only the beginning. Work is needed to ensure that the Treaty enters into force as soon as possible. President Obama should be one of the first signatures on the treaty when it opens for signature on June 3.

Over the past decade, tens of thousands of Oxfam supporters have met with their government officials, campaigned relentlessly in all weathers to build public support, and refused to give in to doubters.

We simply wouldn’t be here if we listened to those skeptics who scoffed that “getting such a Treaty is absurd. It’s never going to happen.” But Oxfam staff and supporters all persevered and we celebrate the first global Arms Trade Treaty that will mean so much to families and communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Mali, and other countries wracked with armed conflict.

A version of this post originally appeared on the Oxfam International website.


More on the Arms Trade Treaty from Oxfam America:

Hear Oxfam America’s president, Ray Offenheiser, talk about the the meaning and impact of the first global Arms Trade Treaty on PRI’s The World.

Send a message thanking the President and his administration for the US’ leadership role.

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