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Some Questions About the Framework Convention on International Arms Transfers
1. What is the aim of this initiative?
Despite growing international concern regarding the devastating effects of irresponsible arms transfers, many governments around the world continue to supply weapons to regions of conflict and human rights abuse. The aim of this initiative is to prevent such arms transfers from happening. It seeks to establish a binding international agreement to control the arms trade according to established principles of human rights, humanitarian law, sustainable development and peaceful international relations. States have already committed themselves to establishing such an agreement in Article 26 of the U.N. Charter.
2. Why is it so important?
· The Framework Convention will help prevent governments from placing profits before principles: Irresponsible arms transfers perpetuate violent conflicts, impede sustainable development, and contribute to countless human rights violations. Although almost all arms exporting states have guidelines that are meant to control international arms transfers, these are all too often inadequate. Many countries continue to prioritise profits in the lucrative arms market over respect for human rights and human security. The devastating effects of this practice are felt by millions of people around the world.
· The Framework Convention will help prevent governments and industry from defending irresponsible exports with the argument, "If we don't sell someone else will": In the increasingly competitive arms export market, countries are reluctant to impose tough unilateral controls for fear that potential buyers will take their business elsewhere. The Framework Convention would establish a core common set of minimum standards to prevent irresponsible weapons sales turned down by one supplier from being picked up by another.
· The Framework Convention will bring arms trade practices into line with States' obligations under existing international law. The international community has developed a series of binding agreements concerning human rights, international humanitarian law, and peaceful co-existence. These agreements establish a number of important limitations on states' freedom to transfer weapons. The Framework Convention seeks to codify these limitations and apply them to the arms trade in a clear and consistent manner. It will provide an invaluable contribution to international law in this area, and a strong framework for further progressive development of the law.
3. How did this initiative come about?
In 1997, a group of Nobel Peace Laureates began a campaign for a more responsible arms trade. Drawing on existing international law, they called on all states to abide by a restrictive Code of Conduct on arms transfers, based upon the following principles:
· respect for human rights and international humanitarian law;
· commitment to promote regional peace, security and stability;
· compliance with international arms embargoes, military sanctions and transparency measures;
· opposition to terrorism; and
· the promotion of sustainable development.
To date, this campaign has been endorsed by 18 individuals and organisations honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize.2
From the beginning, the Peace Laureates have counted on the support of an international group of NGOs that has promoted the initiative at national, regional, and international levels. In late 2000, this group joined with lawyers from the Lauterpacht Research Centre for International Law at Cambridge University to transform the principles endorsed by the Peace Laureates into the present Framework Convention.
4. What is this Framework Convention?
The Framework Convention is proposed as a legally binding agreement setting out core principles and mechanisms relating to international transfers of arms. It is envisaged that the Convention will be supplemented in due course by a number of protocols dealing with specific issues such as licensed production, end-use monitoring and arms brokering.
Like any other treaty, the Framework Convention would enter into force and become a binding international instrument once signed and ratified by the requisite number of states.
5. What would this Convention do?
The Convention would require States to adopt and implement national mechanisms for the explicit authorisation of international transfers of arms.
The Convention would ban the transfer of arms that could be used to seriously violate internationally established standards of human rights, humanitarian law and non-aggression.
It would also require exporting states to avoid the sale of weapons that could have an adverse impact on sustainable development or regional peace and security, would facilitate the commission of violent crimes, or could be easily diverted.
6. Why a Framework Convention?
Although the international community urgently needs to agree a set of common core principles to regulate and control the arms trade, certain associated issues remain more complex and controversial. A Framework Convention allows a step by step approach to develop a binding regime. Firstly, it lays down substantive core prohibitions -firmly based on States' existing commitments under international law- as well as any necessary organs for their implementation. Once agreed, the Convention can be supplemented by protocols negotiated at a later date dealing with more detailed technical issues. In this sense the Framework Convention can be thought of as a "Christmas tree". It provides a basis upon which further instruments can be appended.
7. What is the scope of the Convention?
The Framework Convention focuses on limitations on states' freedom to transfer arms. In so doing, it codifies principles that currently exist in international law, and as such does not attempt to impose new limitations or rules.
8. How can NGOs become part of this campaign?
Although based on sound principles of international law, the Framework Convention on Arms Transfers is not likely to be established overnight. Because of the scope and complexity of the problem it seeks to address, and because the political and economic interests that sustain the international arms trade, a broad and dynamic campaign needs to be built around this issue. This campaign needs to be truly international in character, and needs to benefit from the experience, perspectives and expertise of NGOs from around the world. It will not be 'owned' by any particular group or groups, but rather will be a concerted and co-ordinated effort from global civil society, based upon equal partnership, solidarity and a common commitment to alleviating the devastating consequences of irresponsible weapons sales.
In order to enable such widespread growth of the campaign, the current Working Group is seeking to involve NGOs from those regions currently under-represented. As a first and immediate priority, the current NGO Working Group has devised an engagement strategy which aims to enlist the support of national, international and specialist NGOs for this initiative. In partnership with local NGOs, regional meetings will be set up in the coming months to share this initiative with others and develop appropriate national and regional strategies to bring the campaign forward.
It is hoped that one outcome of these workshops will be the incorporation of new NGOs into the Working Group, which will eventually form a diverse international Steering Committee for the campaign. However, there will be various levels of involvement in this campaign, which will allow different organisations to play different roles according to their particular needs, interests and areas of expertise.
9. What can you do to help?
There are a number of ways that you can be part of this initiative:
· Sign the declaration of support and get your friends and any organisations you belong to to do the same
· Cooperate with the NGO Working Group arrange meetings with your government (contact: email@example.com)
· Help to organise a training session for your NGO on this issue
· Write to your government and ask them to actively support this initiative
· Read the campaign materials and distribute them widely among your membership
· Run an article on this issue in your NGO bulletin or ask the NGO Working Group to write one for you
· Write letters to the editor about this to your local media
Your support for the campaign for a Framework Convention on International Arms Transfers is critical to its success. Any ideas, support or feedback you have to offer would be greatly appreciated and warmly received.
For further information, do not hesitate to contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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