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Humanitarian curbs on deadly weapons boost new UN treaty, sharpen old debates

Humanitarian curbs on deadly weapons boost new UN treaty, sharpen old debates

The foreign minister of Sierra Leone, Dr Samura Kamara, signing the Arms Trade Treaty at UN headquarters on 25 September. Churches in Sierra Leone are active in the WCC campaign for a strong ATT. © United Nations

01 October 2013

World leaders at the United Nations (UN) last week backed two steps in relation to the Arms Trade Treaty, promoted by churches, to make people safer through new laws to control deadly weapons.

The biggest event came as the United States, the world largest exporter of arms, signed the new Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) during a high-level phase of the UN General Assembly, 24 to 26 September. Twenty-six other countries signed as well. Churches had lobbied seven of the new signatories, including Zambia, the USA, South Africa, Sierra Leone, the Philippines and Ghana.

A UN majority of 112 world governments has now signed the Arms Trade Treaty in just four months.

The World Council of Churches and member churches have campaigned for the ATT for the past three years to block sales of arms which risk being used to commit atrocities and violations of human rights and humanitarian law. The next step is for 50 states to ratify the treaty and bring it into effect.

Humanitarian concerns were also prominent at a special high-level UN meeting. This gathering, devoted to nuclear disarmament, met on 26 September. Scores of countries, including all the nations of Africa and Southeast Asia, focused on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. Government and civil society speakers called for an outright ban on nuclear weapons, criticizing the current inertia in disarmament led by nuclear-armed states and echoing a core position in ecumenical advocacy.

“Weapons that have been outlawed increasingly become seen as illegitimate,” a representative of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons told the meeting. Several states pointed to the widespread condemnation of the use of chemical weapons in Syria, which are banned on humanitarian grounds, and noted that nuclear weapons are widely condemned but not banned.

Map showing states that have signed and ratified Arms Trade Treaty

Ecumenical campaign on the Arms Trade Treaty