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An Arms Trade Treaty will save countless lives

World leaders have a historic chance to reduce human suffering and save lives.

Monday July 2, 2012

Photo: Boris Heger/ICRC
Photo: Boris Heger/ICRC

World leaders have a historic chance to reduce human suffering and save lives if they can agree on an effective treaty to govern the globe's multi-billion dollar trade in arms at negotiations in New York this week.

"This is not just an issue in war-torn countries like Afghanistan and Sudan; it matters right here in our region too. The Pacific has one of the world's highest rates of firearms ownership, and it has suffered high levels of armed violence and unrest fuelled by readily available arms and ammunition," said Australian Red Cross CEO Robert Tickner.

Australian Red Cross, and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, are calling on states to adopt a strong and comprehensive Arms Trade Treaty at the UN-organised negotiations, which run from 2 to 27 July. Conventional weapons - from and tanks to assault rifles and machine guns - are often too easy to obtain and every day Red Cross is confronted with the humanitarian consequences.

"Currently worldwide every year, hundreds of thousands of civilians are forced from their homes, injured, raped, or killed because of the widespread availability and misuse of weapons. In many parts of the world, weapons are so easy to obtain and armed violence so prevalent that after an armed conflict, civilians face many of the same threats that they did during it," said Mr Tickner.

"To be effective any treaty must set criteria to assess and block a trade if there is a clear risk it is likely to lead to serious violations of international humanitarian law - violations like war crimes and torture," he said. "Red Cross is also urging that the treaty covers all conventional weapons and ammunition - bullets are fuel and without them these weapons are useless.

"We have written to many politicians about this issue and we are urging the Australian Government to maintain its strong support for a robust and comprehensive treaty and to play a leading role in mobilising support for the treaty.

"This is a critical humanitarian issue which should unite the government, opposition and all political parties represented in the Australian parliament. A robust arms trade treaty can make a difference for millions of people confronted with insecurity, deprivation and fear. We must do everything we can to make it a reality," Mr Tickner said.

There are an estimated 875 million small arms in circulation worldwide, produced by more than 1,000 companies from nearly 100 countries. Lawfully held stockpiles of small arms by civilians in the Pacific include 3.1 million firearms, which is one privately-held gun for every 10 people.

Incredibly, international trade in dangerous materials - things like hazardous chemicals, substances that deplete the ozone layer, hazardous waste and narcotic drugs - is regulated, but an international treaty governing trade in conventional weapons does not exist.

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