Ross Robertson: It's high noon in New York for global arms trade

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Furthermore, for every person killed from armed violence, 10 are injured. Photo / Thinkstock
Furthermore, for every person killed from armed violence, 10 are injured. Photo / Thinkstock

According to Oxfam, nearly 750,000 people die each year from firearm-related violence. There are two bullets for every person in the world. One in 10 people owns or has access to a gun.

Furthermore, for every person killed from armed violence, 10 are injured. That means nearly 7.5 million people are injured every year from armed violence. The horror and magnitude of these numbers speak for themselves.

Around 650 million of the 875 million weapons in existence are held by civilians. It is also a frightening fact that people of all ages are proportionately more likely to die from unintentional firearm injuries when they live in an area with more guns, relative to an area with fewer guns.

It is essential that we better regulate the supply of arms throughout the world. Without stronger regulation - the civil war in Syria being a horrifying example of what can happen in the absence of international standards - we will continue to witness such unchecked devastation.

It is for these reasons that so many United Nations member states, Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA), and many other civil society organisations want to regulate better the trade in conventional weapons.

2012 was an important year as those organisations sought to craft and secure global agreement on a strong Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in an effort to stop irresponsible arms transfers that often fuel conflict, serious human rights abuses and poverty throughout much of the world.

PGA members have played a substantial role in drafting and promoting the Control Arms Global Declaration which is a commitment to support the treaty. More than 2000 parliamentarians from 114 countries have signed up to it, including 89 New Zealand MPs.

There is strong hope that a robust agreement can be achieved at the final ATT Conference which is currently taking place in New York. If not, there exists the possibility for the UN General Assembly adopting the treaty by a two-thirds majority vote later this year under its normal rules of procedure.

The parameters for the drafting of the ATT were first set down in 2006. The initiative was initially opposed by the United States. In 2009 under the Obama Administration, however, the US changed its position and agreed to support increased regulation of the international arms industry.

Under the treaty there will be stricter international standards for the importing, exporting and transferring of conventional arms.

This will not have an impact on any individual's ability to bear arms under any nation's constitutional arrangements or domestic legislation. What it will do is limit the ability of any nation to import or export arms, where there is a substantial risk that they will be abused.

Specifically, the treaty aims to ensure that no transfer of arms will be permitted if there is a substantial risk that they will be used to violate international human rights or UN Charter obligations, facilitate terrorism or acts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Treaties are not only intended to put in place an international legal regime. They also serve "to put down a marker", not only for all countries to become party to them as soon as they can (and in the case of the ATT there will be many in this category), but also to encourage more hesitant countries to also take this step.

For example, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court has been in place for nearly 15 years and entered into force just over 10 years ago. While there are a number of prominent countries that have yet to come on board, more are now moving in its direction as support for the treaty grows. If the treaty didn't exist this would not happen.

The ATT will be a crucial mechanism by which the international community can better regulate imports and exports of conventional weapons in the world.

Ross Robertson is an MP and president of the Parliamentarians for Global Action.

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