Within the last couple of hours, the UN has overwhelmingly
adopted a Resolution bringing into effect an Arms Trade Treaty. It is a
significant moment which deserves note.
Every minute of the day someone, somewhere – usually a
civilian – is killed by some form of arms or munitions, the trade in which has
been less regulated than that of bananas.
Since 2006, when the UK co-authored the first UN General
Assembly resolution on the issue, we have been heavily engaged in trying to do
something about it. It has not been easy. There are many varied interests,
including those which are wholly legitimate. States have a need for self-defence,
and to deter aggression. A defence industry is necessary for providing such
nations with the means to protect themselves, but we also need to prevent the
passage of arms to those who would use them for illicit purposes. Finding a way
to pull together all these interests, and obtain something worthwhile at the
end, has required the highest diplomatic skill – and our representatives have delivered.
After the election of 2010, the present Government determined
to carry through the initial efforts to conclusion, and a range of ministers
have been actively engaged. The UK has a
long had some of the strongest arms control legislation and practice in the
world. With that, and working closely with representatives of industry and also
NGOs, who campaigned with a passion for many years prior to 2006, the UK has
produced a remarkably effective lobby at many different levels. Despite
setbacks and disappointments, it finally achieved its goal this afternoon.
For the first time, we have a legally binding set of global
commitments on national arms export controls. The treaty will require national
governments to assess all arms exports against criteria including human rights
and to deny an export if it poses unacceptable risks. Authorisation of exports
will be reported, and arms brokering regulated. The legitimate trade in arms
will be protected and international collaboration promoted through the
introduction of common international standards.
This treaty will not solve everything. It sets a floor not a
ceiling, and some major exporters and importers will still have work to do to
abide by its provisions. But it makes the world just that little bit safer – and that's something worth