Australia in the front line against arms trafficking

  • Articles and op-ed
03 June 2014

Illegally traded conventional weapons claim more than half a million victims every year. These weapons kill, maim and disable, undermine economic prosperity and development, and keep millions of people, especially women and children, trapped in fear. 

Australia will this week ratify the first legally binding instrument ever negotiated in the United Nations to establish common standards for the international transfer of conventional arms, the Arms Trade Treaty.

In the contentious field of arms control, where diplomatic battles are hard fought and gains are hard won, the Arms Trade Treaty is a significant humanitarian and security initiative and Australia has played a leading role in bringing the international community together to develop a new approach to unregulated trade in conventional arms. 

Under the Howard Government, Australia was one of the seven co-authors of the original General Assembly Resolution calling for an Arms Trade Treaty in 2006.  The Treaty was adopted by an overwhelming majority of states in the United Nations General Assembly in 2013. Now Australia will continue to work with our international partners to achieve the Arms Trade Treaty’s early entry into force and effective implementation. 

We are well on the way towards the 50 ratifications required for the treaty to enter into force.  Of the 118 States that have signed the treaty, 33, including Australia, have ratified to date.

Examples in Australia’s own neighbourhood, such as Bougainville in the 1980s and the Solomon Islands in the 1990s, show just how destabilising the introduction of even small numbers of illicit weapons can be.  Preventing instability in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions is a foreign policy priority for Australia.

The Australian Government believes that international instruments and initiatives can have a direct and positive influence on the security, stability and economic development of communities that are vulnerable to violence caused by the diversion and misuse of arms.  But effective national regulation systems are indispensable to stop illicit trafficking and safeguard legitimate trade.

Drawing on our experience and our own strong arms export controls, Australia will offer practical help to other countries to develop such systems.  We are working with New Zealand on some model legislation that could be adapted by governments in the Pacific.  We are committing a further $1 million to the multi-donor trust fund established to support the ratification and implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty, the UN Trust Facility for Supporting Co-operation on Arms Regulation (UNSCAR).  

This builds on our strong record of action to restrict the use and minimise the dangers of weapons like cluster munitions and landmines.  We have provided over $120 million to humanitarian de-mining and related activities since 2010 and will continue to support high priority initiatives, especially in heavily contaminated countries in our region.

Civil society organisations have made a significant contribution to the development and adoption of the ATT through committed advocacy over many years.  They will continue to play an important role in supporting the treaty’s effective implementation.

Australia has shown strong leadership in international diplomacy and our commitment to practical assistance for those addressing these threats to human safety, prosperity and development.  Our ratification of the Arms Trade Treaty is a clear demonstration of our national values.

Media enquiries