Small numbers of illicit arms can have a devastating impact
The experience of many Small Island Developing States demonstrates the devastating effects of a small amount of illicit arms. During the conflict in the Solomon Islands between 1998 and 2003, a small number of firearms in the wrong hands enabled militants to raid the police and prison armouries. According to the Solomon Islands Truth and Reconciliation Commission, these weapons from state stocks were then used by armed militants to perpetrate heinous crimes. Likewise, the effect of arms used during the conflict in Bougainville has continued to reverberate in the Pacific long after the official peace agreement of 2001. Arms from the conflict were later obtained by the Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM) for use during the conflict in the Solomon Islands. This also demonstrates that vulnerability to arms proliferation is linked across Pacific Island countries.
An analogous pattern is borne out by the experience of the Caribbean, where murder rates are among the highest in the world and 70 percent of murders in the region involve small arms. It is, therefore, no surprise that the Arms Trade Treaty (‘ATT’) has become a matter of “high importance” for the Caribbean and that Caribbean states have long been amongst its most vocal advocates. Ratification of the ATT provides effective measures to manage illicit arms flows, secure government inventories, and enhance domestic and regional security.
ATT ratification builds peace, security and sustainability
Aside from large-scale conflict, illicit arms also significantly affect other domestic and local issues such as domestic violence and economic productivity. Studies have shown links between the presence of firearms in the home and the use of firearms in the intimidation of domestic violence towards, and homicides against, women. The direct costs of armed violence also include expenses related to policing, legal processes, imprisonment, private security and hospitalisation. Indirect costs include decreased workforce participation, lower productivity, and reduced access to schools and public services. A World Bank studyfound that 67 percent of surveyed companies in PNG identified crime as a “major constraint” for their business, and 81 percent stated that security issues affected their decisions on further investment or expansion. Ratification of ATT would enhance domestic security and provide key preventative measures by curbing illicit flows of weapons into the hands of those who use arms to perpetrate violent crimes. Significantly, this would not only reduce levels of violence, but also the negative effects associated with violence. Thus, providing a flourishing environment for sustainable development.
ATT ratification builds international diplomatic capability
Ratifying the ATT builds international legitimacy and diplomatic power. Ratification of the ATT would give Pacific states voting rights at the ATT Conference of State Parties. This is particularly significant as it enables the Pacific to vote as a strong and united bloc and to impact the development of the ATT’s infrastructure. Implementing the ATT in the Pacific would provide a regional forum for developing a common Pacific voice and common positions on the future of peace and security within the region. Furthermore, by ratifying the ATT Pacific states could effectively encourage other states to join, and, in doing so, send a strong message to irresponsible exporters that practices which break the Treaty are not acceptable. This, in turn, increases the Pacific’s general diplomatic standing and legitimacy concerning other international matters.
ATT builds on and preserves the Pacific’s proud record
The Pacific region is in many respects a global leader in arms control and disarmament. For example, since the early 2000s, the Solomon Islands have successfully disarmed and removed illicit weapons from civilians and have also collected and destroyed weapons stockpiles. Ratifying the ATT ensures that this relatively stable and peaceful record can be maintained in the future. Significantly, compliance with the ATT fills legislative gaps that other instruments do not, particularly in relation to the import, export, brokering, and diversion of arms. For example, Article 10 of the ATT requires each state to take measures ‘pursuant to its national laws’ regulating brokering, such as registration or written authorization. By filling these legislative gaps and implementing the ATT, the Pacific’s relationship with armed violence remains preventative in nature. By contrast, if the Pacific does not take action on the ATT, while other states do, the Pacific risks becoming a regional hot spot for illicit and criminal activity.
About the Author
Shmuli Levin interned with the Pacific Small Arms Action Group in 2015 analysing and identifying gaps in Pacific legislation. Shmuli is currently studying Law at Monash University.