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Switzerland signs Arms Trade Treaty

The Arms Trade Treaty signature book during a ceremony at UN headquarters in New York Keystone

More than 60 countries, including Switzerland, have signed the landmark treaty regulating the multibillion-dollar global arms trade. It is the first major international campaign to stem the illicit trade in weapons.

Paul Seger, Switzerland’s permanent representative to the United Nations, signed the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in New York on Monday on behalf of Switzerland.

He described the treaty as “strong, robust, balanced … a basis for the responsible international trade of weapons”.

Seger emphasised how important it is that the ATT enters into force and be implemented as soon as possible in order to combat effectively the negative consequences of the international trade in conventional weapons.

He also suggested Geneva as a location for the treaty’s secretariat.

Following several years of negotiations, the ATT was adopted by the UN General Assembly on April 2, 2013.

In a statement, the Swiss UN mission said Switzerland had been actively involved in negotiating the treaty and played a large part in helping to establish clear regulations in the international arms trade.

For the first time, the ATT sets legally binding international standards for the regulation of cross-border trade in conventional armaments. The aim of the agreement is to foster responsibility in the international arms trade and contribute to the fight against illicit trafficking in weapons in order to reduce the human suffering caused by armed violence.

US support

The United States announced it will sign soon, giving a strong kick-off to the campaign to stem the illicit trade in weapons that fuel conflicts and extremists.

The announcement 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 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.

500,000 deaths a year

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 $60 billion-$85 billion (CHF57 billion-CHF80 billion) – remains to be seen. A lot will depend on which countries ratify and which ones don’t, and how stringently it is implemented once it comes into force.

The Control Arms Coalition, which includes hundreds of non-governmental organisations in more than 100 countries that promoted an Arms Trade Treaty, said many violence-wracked countries including Congo and South Sudan are also expected to sign in the coming weeks and months, and the coalition said their signature – and ratification – will make it more difficult for illicit arms to cross borders.

The coalition said the treaty is designed “to protect millions living in daily fear of armed violence and at risk of rape, assault, displacement and death”, stressing that more than 500,000 people are killed by armed violence every year.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR