Negotiations for a first binding treaty to regulate the global weapons market have begun at the United Nations headquarters in New York – planned to run for several weeks. A strong treaty would require each member state to enforce compliance by companies that produce arms.
Proponents want civil populations protected, pointing to the millions of deaths involved while leaders hang back from decisive action to control arms transfers internationally.
The global market is valued at more than 60 billion dollars (47 billion euros) per year.
The trade in some parts of the world is completely unregulated, such as Syria, Sudan and the African Great Lakes region, says the human rights defence organisation Amnesty International.
Activist Aquib Yacoob said: “Every 60 seconds a person dies from weapons, from armed violence. That’s over 500,000 people who die every single year.”
Activists in New York insist that international trade rules be imposed on weapon-selling as on so many other products – fruit for example.
Suzanne Nossel, with Amnesty, said: “We discovered, to our astonishment, that bananas are more heavily regulated than small arms. There are more rules governing your ability to trade a banana from one country to the next than governing your ability to trade an AK-47 or a military helicopter.”
In February, preparatory talks for these negotiations nearly collapsed. Finally, the United States and other countries succeeded in ensuring the treaty must be approved unanimously, so any one country can effectively veto a deal.
The top arms suppliers are the US, Russia, Germany, France and Britain.
Among the biggest importers, India leads the way, buying a lot from Russia, along with China. South Korea and Pakistan buy extensively from the US.
Russia sold more than 10 billion euros worth of military equipment last year and is clearly among the countries that want a weak treaty.
Amnesty said the United States, China, Syria and Egypt were pushing to exclude ammunition.
India, Pakistan, Japan and Saudi Arabia are said to want a clear mention of rights to equip their defence forces.