Syria is a sharp reminder of precisely why we need a strong Arms Trade Treaty.
The distressing scenes of ferocious and unrelenting military assaults on Syrian cities, are a sharp reminder that the world needs to have tougher controls on the arms trade, and urgently. Since protests began in Syria in March 2011, Amnesty International has recorded the names of more than 9,000 people who have been killed, and the death toll rises daily. With no UN arms embargo in place and with Russia still supplying Syria with weaponry, it is clear that the current rules regulating global arms are weak and ineffective.
It's not just in Syria where Russia is the primary provider of weapons fuelling a bloody conflict. A recent Amnesty report has revealed that Russia and China are continuing to supply attack helicopters, fighter jets, ammunition and other weapons to the Darfur region of Sudan - despite a UN arms embargo against such transactions. More than 300,000 people have died in the Darfur conflict since the violence began there nine years ago, and, in the last six months of 2011 alone, more than 70,000 people were violently uprooted from their homes in eastern Darfur.
Existing arms controls around the world are simply not working. We need a new system to regulate the arms trade: one based on comprehensive rules, obligations and laws that will stop the supply of weapons in circumstances where there is a substantial risk that they will be used to commit human rights atrocities. It has never been more important for the world to deliver a robust arms trade treaty.
In July 2012, governments will meet in New York to negotiate the text of an international arms trade treaty, one of the most important treaties the world has ever seen. This historic treaty would, for the first time, regulate the global arms trade and - if implemented effectively - could prevent the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and help stop brutal repression at the hands of the security forces in many countries.
Some countries are threatening to water down the treaty. The USA and Pakistan have called for some weapons to be excluded from the treaty's scope and some countries are attempting to dilute absolute principles which say that weapons must never be sold where there is a danger that they might be used to violate human rights.
As events unfolding across the Middle East and North Africa show, attempts to introduce grey areas into the treaty's powers are dangerous and ought to be dismissed. Amnesty supporters all over the world are currently campaigning with one demand, that the UN member states commit to a robust and effective arms trade treaty. In 2005, the Swiss government made a commitment to support the creation of an arms trade treaty, and, in the preparatory meetings, spoke out for robust options. Amnesty is calling on the Swiss government to maintain its position and not to give in under pressure from the military powers.
The facts are clear: weapons which end up in the wrong hands cost lives, fuel bloody conflicts and enable serious human rights atrocities. We must stop arming governments such as Syria who use these weapons to kill and maim their people. This is a unique opportunity - the chance to plug the flow of weapons that are responsible for so much death and misery.
World leaders have just one shot to get this right. They simply cannot afford to miss the mark.
Support the global petition on www.amnesty.ch/hautlesmains.
To read the exclusive interview with Manon Schick, Amnesty Swiss spokesman, order a copy of The Global Journal.
(Photo © DR)
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