UNITED NATIONS — A landmark treaty regulating the multibillion-dollar global arms trade comes into force on Wednesday, a milestone hailed by the United Nations and campaigners seeking to stop weapons sales to dictators, terrorists and human rights abusers.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday the treaty's speedy entry into force — less than two years after its historic adoption by the U.N. General Assembly — reflects the commitment of states, international organizations and civil society "to stop irresponsible arms transfers."
The treaty requires countries that ratify it to establish national regulations to control the transfer of conventional arms and components, and to regulate arms brokers. 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.
So far, 60 countries have ratified the treaty including five of the world's top 10 arms exporters — France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Britain. Another 129 countries have signed but not ratified the treaty including the United States, the largest arms producer and exporter.
Ban called on all countries that haven't ratified the treaty to do so "without delay."
However, there is little hope of U.S. ratification, which requires approval by two-thirds of the Senate. Republicans, who will control the Senate in January, overwhelmingly oppose gun restrictions and the treaty is vehemently opposed by the powerful National Rifle Association.
The global trade in arms and ammunition has been estimated to generate between $60 billion and $85 billion annually. But Amnesty International, which started campaigning for a treaty in the early 1990s, said Tuesday the value of the secrecy-shrouded international arms trade is approaching $100 billion annually.
"This achievement is a truly historic breakthrough," Amnesty Secretary General Salil Shetty said. But "it is not a panacea. It will require even more widespread support and pressure to ensure states strictly adhere to its principles."
Anna Macdonald, director of the Control Arms Coalition representing over 100 organizations working in more than 120 countries, said civilians from the Syrian city of Aleppo to Peshawar in Pakistan, and from Gaza to South Sudan, "have paid far too high a price this year" as a result of the poorly regulated arms trade.
"If robustly implemented, this treaty has the potential to save many lives and offer much-needed protection to vulnerable civilians around the world," Macdonald said. "It is now — finally — against international law to put weapons in the hands of human rights abusers and dictators. December 24 marks the dawn of a new era."