Conventional weapons that are sold or diverted to unscrupulous
regimes, criminals, and terrorist groups kill hundreds of thousands
of civilians every year in places like Syria and Sudan. World
leaders must act soon on an arms trade treaty being negotiated this
month at the United Nations.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of civilians around the globe
are slaughtered by conventional weapons that are sold, transferred
by governments, or diverted to unscrupulous regimes, criminals,
illegal militias, and terrorist groups. The enormous human toll from
the unregulated trade of conventional arms undermines international
security and impedes economic and social development.
But the governments and arms brokers that contribute to crimes
against humanity by pouring guns and ammo into conflict zones are
not violating any international law and are often outside the
jurisdiction of national laws. This hole in the fabric of
international security can and must be fixed beginning this month.
After three years of preparations, diplomats from the United
States and more than 100 other countries are meeting at the United
Nations in New York to work out a new legally binding, global arms
trade treaty by a July 27 deadline. The goal is to establish common
standards for the import, export, and transfer of conventional arms
While the US and a few other countries have relatively tough
regulations governing the trade of weapons, many countries have weak
or ineffective regulations, if they have any at all. The result is
that there are more international laws governing the trade of
bananas than conventional weapons, like AK-47s.
In the absence of international standards and effective national
controls, irresponsible arms suppliers exploit the gaps for profit.
For years, for instance, Russian firms have supplied helicopters to
Syria which have reportedly been used by the Assad regime to attack
civilian population centers in recent weeks.
Weapons, ammunition, and equipment made in Belarus, China, and
Russia continue to flow into Sudan, supplying government military
forces that commit atrocities in Darfur and the Nuba Mountains
As US Assistant Secretary of State for International Security
Thomas Countryman said in April, when it comes to the arms trade
there must be "a new sense of responsibility upon every member of
the United Nations that you cannot simply export and forget."
The arms trade treaty won't stop all illicit arms transfers, but
it has the potential to change behavior by requiring states to put
in place basic regulations and follow common sense criteria that
reduce irresponsible international arms transfers and hold arms
suppliers more accountable for their actions.
To succeed, the assembled ambassadors must put sons over guns and
daughters over slaughter. …