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Global arms treaty goes into force

December 24, 2014

A treaty that seeks to regulate the global arms industry comes into force on Wednesday. Many major weapons producers have ratified the agreement - except the world's largest, the United States.

Symbolbild Waffenexporte Deutschland Panzer Kritik
Image: Ronny Hartmann/AFP/Getty Images

The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) lays down rules for the $85 billion (70 billion euro) weapons industry and seeks to keep them out of the hands of criminals and human rights abusers.

After coming into force on Wednesday, it means the countries that have signed on are legally obligated to prevent the transfer or diversion of weapons to warlords, terrorists and criminal organizations. They must assess whether an exported weapon could circumvent an international embargo, or be used for genocide, war crimes or organized crime.

The treaty has been signed by 130 countries, less than two years after its adoption by the UN General Assembly. Sixty countries, including five of the top ten arms exporters - France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Britain - have ratified the treaty.

The United States, which is the world's top arms exporter, signed the Arms Trade Treaty in September 2013, but the Senate has yet to ratify it. The powerful National Rifle Association gun lobby opposes ratification, even though the treaty does not cover domestic gun sales.

Russia, China, India and Pakistan - other major weapons producers - have not signed the pact.

UN Chief Ban Ki-moon said those who had not agreed to the pact should "accede to it without delay."

It was "critical that we continue to promote universal participation", by encouraging all states "particularly major arms exporters and importers to join," Ban said in a statement on Tuesday.

Supporters say the treaty's implementation will make it much harder for arms dealers to ship weapons to conflict hotspots like Syria, South Sudan, or other places in the Middle East and Africa, and elsewhere.

"For too long, arms and ammunition have been traded with few questions asked about whose lives they will destroy," said Anna Macdonald, director of the Control Arms coalition of non-governmental organizations.

The treaty covers international and cross-border transfers of weapons such as tanks, to combat aircraft and missiles, as well as small arms.

jr/jm (dpa, Reuters, AFP)