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Time to curb the illicit global arms trade

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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 regions.

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. At a minimum, the new treaty should require states to withhold approval for the international transfer of arms in contravention of UN embargoes or when there is a substantial risk the items will be used to commit serious violations of human rights. Despite its strong, pro-human rights rhetoric, the Obama administration has not yet endorsed such a formula.

Negotiators must also ensure that the treaty covers all types of transfers and the full range of conventional weapons, from military aircraft to small arms.

The treaty must also cover the import and export of ammunition. The world is already full of guns. The constant flows of ammunition feed and prolong conflicts and armed violence. The exclusion of ammunition from the scope of the treaty would greatly reduce its ability to achieve many of its most important goals. The United States already licenses the import and export of ammunition, and there is no compelling reason why Washington should not ask the rest of the world to step up to the US standard. 

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