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The United Nations Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons adopted by member states in 2001 provides the framework to check the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.
The UN Register of Conventional Arms also requires countries to regularly report their arms imports and exports to confirm that weapons are only used in conformity with the UN Charter.
According to the UN, the register is an important tool which gives practical significance to transparency in armaments. The register did not cover all arms.
According to the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), global trade in conventional weapons, ranging from warships and battle tanks to fighter jets and machine guns, remains poorly regulated.
The UNODA notes that no internationally agreed standards exist to ensure that arms are transferred responsibly.
In 2006, government all over the world embarked on a preparatory process to negotiate an all-inclusive legally binding instrument, to establish common standard for international trade in conventional arms.
This paved the way for the United Nations Conference on Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) that was held in July 2012 at the UN Headquarters in New York.
The UNODA said after the four-week intensive negotiations, the conference could not reach an agreement.
The UN General Assembly, therefore decided to convene another conference slated to hold from March 18 to March 28, 2013 in New York, to conclude the work begun in July 2012.
ECOWAS in February, held its preparatory meeting on ATT in collaboration with the international community.
United Kingdom Deputy High Commissioner Giles Lever, restated the poor regulation of conventional arms.
“Virtually all trade in goods is regulated, but no globally agreed standards exist for international arms trade.
“The illicit trade in small arms and light weapons occur in all parts of the globe, but it is concentrated in areas afflicted by armed conflict, violence and organised crime, where the demand for illicit weapons is often highest.
“You the ECOWAS member states, civil society organisations and citizens are all too familiar with this.
“You have felt the bloody human cost of the misuse of weapons transferred to government forces, or the diversion of arms to organised criminals, terrorists and other illegally armed groups,” he remarked.
The Deputy High Commissioner recalled the efforts of the UK in December 2006, to introduce the initial resolution for UN member states to agree on a global ATT.
Lever urged stakeholders at the meeting to remain resolute to ensure the feat is achieved.
“We all want a strong text but we also know that without the support of the major arms exporters, the ATT will fail to live up to its promise.
“We must focus on the issues that will make a real difference when we come to implement this treaty and I urge you to speak with a passionate and united voice in New York,” he advised.
Dr Agnekethom Cyriaque, Head, Small Arms Division, ECOWAS, said that the diverse interests of countries was a major challenge.
“This is very complex, because we have the economic interest, political interest, humanitarian aspect which we are putting on the table.
“This is why maybe after two years of preparatory committees -- we had four preparatory committees in New York and four consecutive weeks of negotiations -- we failed because the interests are very divergent and strong.
“The main problem is ammunition but some are saying ammunition should not be included in the treaty.
“All we are saying is let us put the highest standard of regulating the transfer of conventional arms and some people are trying to bring it to the minimum.
“They are talking of benefits that the trade brings, but we are saying these tools are killing our people and destabilising our region.
“I would say 90 per cent of states in July agreed to that, but there are still some key arms producers who are against this vision, so we are going to negotiate for this again.’’
Cyriaque reaffirmed the resolve of ECOWAS to ensure a robust ATT.
“ECOWAS is saying that it cannot be part of an agreement that is not controlling ammunition,” he stated.
Mr Jones Applerh, Executive Secretary, Ghana National Commission on Small Arms also reiterated the need for a “balanced treaty”.
“Manufacturing countries are talking about profits, we are thinking about humanitarian consequences and what guns are doing to us in Africa and to get a convergence of these interests is always a challenge.’’
He added that the non-manufacturing and developing countries were mindful of the adverse effects the poor regulation of conventional arms had on their citizens.
OXFAM, an international relief and development organisation, said since 2003, the organisation had been tracking countries positions on arms control.
OXFAM’s Policy Adviser, Arms Control and Development, Deepayan Basu Ray commended the position of ECOWAS countries.
“We have been tracking state positions particularly ECOWAS positions since the conference started.
“ECOWAS positions have consistently been some of the most progressive, forward thinking positions in the ATT process and that is reflected in part by the ECOWAS Small Arms Protocol which again is one of the templates for the kind of model regulations that can actually work around the world.
“A number of countries have said very explicitly that they will not water down this treaty to the point that it becomes ineffective just to gain consensus.
“It is really important that all the negotiating countries remain resolute so that when the text goes to the General Assembly for consideration, there is something worth voting for.
“There is no point in voting for something that is really weak,” he said.
Mr Abiodun Adejola, Nigerian envoy at the United Nations, said expectations were high about the possible outcome of the March conference.
“I know that we have a lot of challenges but we will try our best in the conference to get results,’’ the envoy assured.
Observers say as the meeting deliberates on March 18, one thing must be central in the minds of participants – the need to protect humanity at all cost, through curbing arms proliferation. as such arms have found their way in wrong and criminal hands, at a great consequence.
Control, they say, should not be compromised.