UNITED NATIONS, United States: A treaty laying down international rules for the US$85 billion (S$112.6 billion) global arms trade goes into force on Wednesday (Dec 24), with campaigners vowing to make sure it is strictly implemented.
The United States - by far the world's largest arms producer and exporter - has signed the treaty, but has yet to ratify it. Other key exporters such as France, Britain and Germany have ratified the charter and pledged to adhere to its strict criteria aimed at cutting off weapons supplies to human rights violators worldwide.
"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 organisations. "The new Arms Trade Treaty which enters into force this week will bring that to an end."
"It is now finally against international law to put weapons into the hands of human rights abusers and dictators," she said.
A total of 130 countries have signed the treaty and 60 have ratified it, including Israel which joined the movement just this month.
United Nations (UN) chief Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday said it was "critical that we continue to promote universal participation" in the treaty and encouraged all states "particularly major arms exporters and importers to join." Those nations which have not yet adhered to the pact should "accede to it without delay," he said.
UN High Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein hailed the treaty as providing a framework "to end the flow of weaponry that may be used to commit atrocities and other serious human rights violations."
Campaigners however say much work lies ahead to implement the treaty, with a first meeting of the states-parties to the treaty to be held around September next year.
INJURED, RAPED OR EXILED
Decisions will have to be made about the financing mechanisms for the pact and setting up a secretariat to oversee its implementation.
Amnesty International noted that five of the top 10 arms exporters - France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Britain - have ratified the ATT. China and Russia have yet to sign on.
The first major arms accord since the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the ATT covers international transfers of everything from tanks to combat aircraft to missiles, as well as small arms. The treaty compels countries to set up national controls on arms exports. States must assess whether an exported weapon could circumvent an international embargo, be used for genocide and war crimes or be used by terrorists and organized crime.
"If robustly implemented, this treaty has the potential to save many lives and offer much needed protection to vulnerable civilians around the world," said Macdonald.
Amnesty International says around 500,000 people die every year and millions are injured, raped or forced into exile because of a lack of regulation of the arms trade.
"This achievement is a truly historic breakthrough. It shows what is possible when human rights campaigners dig in for the long haul and work relentlessly to turn a good idea into a lifesaving reality around the world," said Salil Shetty, Amnesty's secretary general.