More than 65 countries sign Arms Trade Treaty

Signatures are the first step to ratification, and the treaty will only take effect after 50 countries ratify it.

Updated: Jun 04, 2013, 13:54 PM IST

New York: More than 65 countries have signed the landmark treaty regulating the multibillion-dollar global arms trade and the United States announced it will sign soon, giving a strong kick-off to the first major international campaign to stem the illicit trade in weapons that fuel conflicts and extremists.

The announcement on Tuesday by US Secretary of State John Kerry that the US, the world`s largest arms dealer, will sign is critical, but the treaty`s ultimate strength rests on support by all major arms exporters and importers.

While the treaty was overwhelmingly approved on April 02 by the UN General Assembly, key arms exporters including Russia and China and major importers, including India, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Egypt, abstained and have given no indication yet that they will sign it.

Signatures are the first step to ratification, and the treaty will only take effect after 50 countries ratify it.

Finland`s Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, a key treaty backer, predicted that there will be 50 ratifications "within slightly more than a year but the real test is, of course, getting those who still have doubts or who have not made up their minds, to sign on and ratify."

The treaty will require countries that ratify it to establish national regulations to control the transfer of conventional arms and components and to regulate arms brokers, but it will not control the domestic use of weapons in any country. It prohibits the transfer of conventional weapons if they violate arms embargoes or if they promote acts of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes, and if they could be used in attacks on civilians or civilian buildings such as schools and hospitals.

What impact the treaty will have in curbing the global arms trade estimated at between USD 60 billion and USD 85 billion remains to be seen. A lot will depend on which countries ratify it, and how stringently it is implemented once it comes into force.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a special event marking the signings that the treaty shows that "the world has finally put an end to the `free-for-all` nature of international weapons transfers."

"The treaty ... Will make it harder for weapons to be diverted into the illicit market, to reach warlords, pirates, terrorists and criminals or to be used to commit grave human rights abuses or violations of international humanitarian law," Ban said.