3 April 2014

Africa: Notable Absence of African States On First Anniversary of Arms Trade Treaty

Photo: Guy Oliver/IRIN
A pile of rifles after disarmament in eastern DRC.

On the first anniversary of the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) by the United Nations General Assembly, the landmark agreement fell short of its 50 state ratification minimum needed to enter into force.

Only two African countries have ratified the treaty.

So far, 28 African countries have signed on to the ATT but only Nigeria and Mali have ratified, despite ongoing arms-fueled conflicts in and Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Many African countries simply do not have the capacity to implement the treaty, Rasha Abdul-Rahim of Amnesty International's Arms Control, Security and Human Rights Team, told MediaGlobal News via email.

"Some national ratification processes are more complex than others, but mostly the reason is that some African states lack the legal, institutional, technical or financial capacity to ratify the treaty," Abdul-Rahim said.

The ATT is the first concerted international effort to regulate the $70 billion industry of illicit conventional arms trade. To date, 118 Member States have signed on and 31 have ratified.

On Wednesday, 18 Member States ratified the treaty, including five of the top 10 arms exporters in the world--Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.

If implemented and enforced, the ATT would both increase human rights protections for hundreds of millions of civilians living under threat from arms trafficking and halt the flow of weapons to countries, many in Africa, where arms are known to facilitate genocide, human rights abuses and war crimes.

Amnesty International estimates that at least half a million people die every year on millions more are displaced as a direct result of armed conflict.

China, Russia, and Ukraine, the countries that have long supplied the most arms to sub-Saharan Africa, have not signed the ATT. The largest arms exporter in the world, the United States, has signed but not ratified the treaty.

"We really need to make progress on disarmament," said UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson at the Trusteeship Council Chamber to celebrate the first anniversary of the treaty's adoption. "This is one major weakness for the United Nations now, that we are not doing that now."

"The world is over armed and peace is underfunded and we really need to get our priorities straight," Eliasson said.

In the interim, smaller, regional agreements such as the Southern African Development Community arms protocol and the Nairobi Protocol are attempting to halt the flow illegal arms trafficking on the African continent. Abdul-Rahim explained that, when the ATT is entered into force, Article 16 would encourage international assistance for African countries in the form of stockpile management, disarmament, legislation and implementation.

In addition, certain human rights provisions don't require 50-state ratification, said Adbul-Rahim. Article 23 allows Member States to provisionally apply the human rights clauses prior to the treaty entering into force. Spain, Belgium, Germany, Mexico, Norway, Serbia, Iceland, Costa Rica, Antigua and Barbuda, and Trinidad and Tobago have voiced their support for this measure.

UN leaders have expressed hope that the ATT will enter into force this year; so far, no other African countries have indicated a willingness to ratify it.

The ATT "won't be a panacea to end the world's misuse of arms and all violence, genocide and human rights abuses," said Abdul-Rahim to MediaGlobal News, "but it is a colossal step in the right direction."

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