More than half a million people lose their lives because of armed violence every year. Of the total, 200,000 people are killed in military conflicts, and at least twice that number of people fall victim to other forms of armed violence.
The number of victims and other negative consequences can be reduced by regulating international arms transfers and preventing illicit arms trade. These are the goals of the international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) that entered into force in December 2014.
Finland will act as President of the international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) during the period of 2016–2017. Ambassador Klaus Korhonen, elected as President in August, and his team are already busy working on their tasks.
– We are in an interesting and intensive phase. After almost two years of its adoption, the treaty is about to proceed from administrative preparation to an operational phase, Korhonen says.
About half of the world's nations have joined the Arms Trade Treaty to date. One of Korhonen's primary goals is to have more countries join the treaty.
– Arms trade flows are highly globalised. Those who do not have a clean pair of hands are always on the lookout for the weak links. Every country is a potential transit region. On the other hand, there are still many great powers in arms trade that are not yet fully committed to the treaty.
Among exporting countries, such states include Russia and China, and, among importing countries, India and Saudi Arabia. The United States has signed the treaty, but has not ratified it.
Other work falling within the scope of the ATT has also commenced at full speed. The work is underway, for example, for collection of significant information on experiences in various regions, and efforts will be made to tap the lessons learned from them.
The Voluntary Trust Fund (VTF), intended for providing future support for projects implementing the ATT in different countries, is also getting off to a good start.
– The message to the countries outside the ATT is that they can receive help. It is better to join the ATT right away, even if the country's own systems are not yet fully functional.
The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) requires that any State Party to the ATT put in place a national system for controlling cross-border transfers of conventional arms. Countries that export weapons must take the consequences of their actions into account when trading in arms.
– The exporting countries must evaluate the impacts of arms trade on peace and security, the possibility of terrorism, and implementation of humanitarian and human rights law. One must also watch out that arms are not used as an instrument of gender-based violence. Those importing arms, on the other hand, need to keep the exporting countries informed and ensure sufficient reporting.
In fact, Korhonen considers reporting to be the strength of the ATT.
– Reporting will provide us with information about the circumstances in different countries and about what kind of support these countries would need. At the same time, it creates peer pressure, when countries want to outperform their neighbours in the implementation of measures, estimates Korhonen.
– We have already gathered much more information about where arms are ending up than we had before. The transfer routes of arms are also very revelatory of the build-up of regional tensions and the probability of conflicts.
Finland is one of the eight countries that originally proposed establishment of an arms trade treaty to the international community in 2006.
Getting arms trade included on the agenda of the international community was a major achievement in itself. The ATT is the first legal instrument addressing arms trade and transfers of arms at an international level. It has also attracted a lot of media attention.
– In arms trade, the traditional division lines of international politics often become blurred. The exporting and importing countries also tend to find each other, despite of how different starting points they may have. In the last resort, the ATT is in everyone's best interest, and this fact is also widely recognised.
A draft resolution on the Arms Trade Treaty presented by Finland as the President of the ATT was adopted by an overwhelming majority by the United Nations at the end of October. Nobody voted against the proposal.
– Several countries that are not State Parties to the treaty voted for it anyway. They are interested in this matter and support it in the UN.
The writer serves as communications arviser at the Permanent Mission of Finland to the United Nations in New York.