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11 November 2009 - Time for an arms trade treaty - Opinion column by Bernard Kouchner, French Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, and David Miliband, British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, published in the Guardian

Governments are getting closer to a new treaty to regulate weapons exports, but civil society groups have a vital role to play

One of the great tragedies of our times is the uncontrolled spread of weapons, often from illegal markets, sometimes in violation of international embargoes. Up to a thousand people a day - mostly women and children - are killed by such arms, most of them in the world’s poorest countries. These weapons fuel conflict, break down societies and prevent families climbing out of poverty. There is an urgent moral imperative to grip a global problem that is spinning out of control.

One crucial step will be to negotiate a worldwide arms trade treaty. Britain and France have been working closely since 2006 to promote the idea of such a treaty in the United Nations, which would join up the current patchwork of national and regional systems for regulating arms exports. It is the gaps in these systems and their lack of consistency and coherence that have allowed illegal arms markets to spring up.

We are making good progress. In July, countries formally agreed for the first time that the unregulated international trade in conventional arms was creating a global problem. And on 30 October, an overwhelming majority of countries voted to adopt a clear timetable for work on a treaty. We welcome in particular Hillary Clinton’s announcement on 14 October that the US would back a treaty, the first time the US has said this.

Under the plan agreed at the UN on 30 October, governments have agreed to meet in 2010 and 2011 to prepare for a major diplomatic conference in 2012 that would, we hope, finalise a treaty. Negotiating the precise provisions is likely to be a complex process. We are clear we want a treaty with the highest possible standards, to ensure the protection of life and dignity, and we want it as soon as possible. But the issues are technically difficult and the needs of all 197 UN member states must be addressed.

Governments will inevitably take the lead in negotiating what will be in the new treaty. But modern diplomacy is not just about officials working in international organisations. It is about making sure the decision-making process reflects the views of an increasingly interdependent and well-informed global society.

That is why civil society groups have a vital role to play if we are indeed going to achieve the goal of a universal and robust arms trade treaty. Historically, it has often been the moral argument that has shifted the momentum toward political and social action and been the impetus for change. Today is no different.

Throughout the three-year period before the diplomatic conference we need to maintain momentum and persuade those who have doubts about an arms trade treaty. It is vital to those who care about the moral issue to make sure that this process is successful. We will be working with a broad range of NGOs, faith groups and independent activists - all of which have indicated their support for a treaty - to make sure their voices are properly heard.

Such groups have global grassroots networks, which speak uniquely across cultures, languages and nations. They have been crucial in putting debt relief at the top of the G8 agenda, through the Make Poverty History and Jubilee Debt Campaign. The UK and France worked closely with NGOs, faith groups and campaigners to secure last year’s convention banning cluster munitions, which more than 100 countries have now signed. The same groups can now play a role in making the arms trade treaty an international priority.



(Link to the artlicle on the Guardian’s website)



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