The following article was published in the July-August 2013 NewsNotes.
On June 3 representatives of more than 60 countries signed the historic Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) at the United Nations in New York. At this occasion, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said that the ATT "has opened a door of hope to millions of women, men and children who live in deprivation and fear because of the poorly controlled international arms trade and the proliferation of deadly weapons."
Every day people are killed by arms that proceed from the uncontrolled market, but on June 3, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon encouraged the arms trading countries to be the first movers of the ATT: "The eyes of the world are watching arms traders, manufacturers and governments, as never before. I call on all governments to bring national legislation and procedures in line with the requirements of the treaty so that it becomes a strong force of security and development for all."
The overwhelming violence around the world motivated civil society to come together 10 years ago to launch the Control Arms campaign, whose massive education and advocacy led to the successful passage of the ATT. Oxfam’s Anna MacDonald, one of Control Arms’ founders, stated at the signing ceremony that the campaign was created because "the arms trade is out of control and ordinary people around the world are suffering at the rate of one death every minute, with millions more forced from their homes, suffering abuse and impoverishment." In order to end this violence, civil society and government representatives worked together to negotiate a treaty that could end atrocities perpetrated through illegal arms trade.
As he signed, Alistair Burt, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom, said: "With the cooperation of all countries, the ATT will change and save lives. It will promote sustainable development by enabling resources to reach schools, healthcare services, and critical infrastructure rather than being wasted on conflict. It will reduce human suffering by preventing arms being used in serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. The treaty will help combat terrorism and crime by steadily reducing the unfettered proliferation of weapons which threaten the security of countries, their neighbors and the rest of the world."
In order for change to happen, countries must comply with the stipulations of the treaty and not allow loopholes that will permit smuggled arms to enter or pass through the borders of their countries. Whether bound by the treaty or not, neighboring countries have the moral imperative to prohibit passage of illegal arms because they have the obligation to protect the lives of innocent civilians within and outside their borders. In order to stop violence from propagating, countries need to cooperate with one another in the limiting of arms influx into their regions or countries. Together they will effectively stop the trans-border illegal arms trade.
Hopefully international dialogue will continue after this first phase. Civil society needs to be included in feasible aspects of that dialogue as they are the representatives of those caught in the dilemma. The United Nations has been the undaunted facilitator of actions for peace and in fact has taken the first step to facilitate the implementation phase by launching a multi-donor United Nations Trust Facility Supporting Cooperation on Arms Regulation (UNSCAR).
As people of faith, we are called to work for peace and to care for life. When Cain killed Abel, God asked him, "Cain, where is your brother Abel?" Indeed there was no peace in Cain’s heart. The missing, the injured, raped women and girls, among other victims, all need our voice. We must take a stand with our vulnerable brothers and sisters knowing that we too are vulnerable. Defending our brothers and sisters implies speaking against actions that put their lives in danger. We need to lobby our leaders to stop supplying arms that are destined to kill innocent civilians and by doing so, we will be fulfilling the Gospel mandate.