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Africa needs a Robust Arms Trade Treaty

Joseph Dube
IANSA Africa Coordinator
Joseph Dube

Joseph Dube

The current practice of allowing irresponsible transfers of military and security equipment and related items across borders has resulted in millions of lives and livelihoods being destroyed and the fundamental rights of many more people being seriously violated. In July 2012, this could change as United Nations (UN) Member States gather to negotiate an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). As we celebrate 49 years since Africa Union was established, it is important that we consider what our leaders should do to stop the irresponsible trade in arms. For the treaty to be relevant to Africa those diplomats who head to New York in July for the negotiations, should ensure that the ATT covers five key areas:

1. States must control all aspects of international trade and transfers of conventional arms under their jurisdiction. These should be subject to prior authorization or approved in accordance with national laws and procedures that reflect, as a minimum, States' obligations under the ATT and other relevant international law.

2. The ATT must explicitly recognize existing international law obligations of States. All states have an existing positive obligation to ensure that their international trade and transfers of arms do not contribute to or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights laws or crimes under international law.

3An effective Arms Trade Treaty should require States not to transfer arms internationally where there is a substantial risk that they could be used to perpetrate or facilitate patterns of gender-based violence, including rape and other forms of sexual violence.

4. The ATT must require states to regulate transfers of ammunition, in addition to conventional arms. Africa has suffered from the flows of ammunition. This must be curtailed and the ATT is one way to do so.

5. The ATT should contribute to an enhanced level of transparency in arms transfers to promote confidence in shared security based on international law among States and ensure greater accountability and respect for the rule of law.

Achieving an effective ATT is an urgent necessity. An effective ATT will be one that will work towards saving lives, preserving livelihood and enhancing respect for human rights. Africa should enter into the negotiations united in their commitment to achieve a robust ATT that will save lives. As we celebrate Africa Day our leaders should show commitment to such a treaty by adopting the draft AU Common Position on ATT ahead of the July Conference.