In between speeches and diplomatic maneuverings held at the annual opening of the United Nations General Assembly, the world’s largest arms exporter just signed the international Arms Trade Treaty.
By signing the treaty, the United States took an important step toward a safer and more secure world. The U.S. signature sends a powerful message that our country is committed to preventing mass atrocities and protecting civilians from armed conflict. Now it is up to the Senate to quickly ratify the treaty.
This is truly a historical moment, as the Arms Trade Treaty is the first ever multilateral treaty on the global trade in conventional arms and ammunition. It requires governments to establish common standards for the international trade of weapons and will address the inadequate patchwork system of national laws, regional initiatives and country-specific embargoes that have failed to effectively control the world’s deadliest trade up to now.
Getting to this moment was no small feat. After a decade of discussions, countries of the world came together to agree to the Arms Trade Treaty by a vote of 154-3 at the U.N. last April. The only three countries voting against the agreement were Iran, North Korea and Syria.
Millions of men, women and children have suffered from armed violence around the world, violence that continues today in Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali and many other countries.
The Arms Trade Treaty could prevent further fueling of conflicts if all states begin living up to its principles by immediately stopping the sending of any further arms that could be used to commit atrocities or other serious human rights abuses.
Contrary to the fears of some, and to misinformation spread by the gun lobby, the treaty does not address any domestic gun control issues and, therefore, would not impact the Second Amendment rights of Americans. Instead, the treaty does four vital things that will save lives and improve livelihoods.
First, the treaty bans the transfer of arms when the exporter knows the weapons will be used for genocide and other atrocities.
Second, it gives governments a set of steps they must take prior to transferring arms. These rules will help prevent the transfer of conventional arms to commit violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, acts of terrorism and transnational organized crime.
Third, the treaty requires all countries to develop basic national export and import control systems. Implementing effective national systems is the surest way of preventing unscrupulous arms dealers from trading arms to war criminals and human rights abusers with impunity.
And finally, the treaty requires governments to be transparent in their arms trade decisions. Without obligations requiring countries to be transparent, the shadowy and secretive global trade in arms and ammunition will continue unabated, fueling corruption and hindering accountability.
Furthermore, the standards in the treaty already reflect existing U.S., law and its goals are in line with long-standing US policy and practice.
Globally, however, there are no solid, internationally binding rules on arms trade — though there are rigorous trade policies on selling bananas and MP3 players. This must change. The administration has done its part by signing the Arms Trade Treaty. Now is the time for the Senate to ratify.
Offenheiser is president of Oxfam America, a global development and humanitarian relief organization.