Stop a Bullet, Stop a War: Why ammunition must be included in the Arms Trade Treaty

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Guns are useless without bullets. An Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) that does not control ammunition will not achieve its purposes. Ammunition is bigger business than weapons, with twelve billion bullets produced each year – nearly two bullets for every person in the world. The global trade in ammunition for small arms and light weapons is worth more than the trade in firearms and light weapons themselves: an estimated $4.3bn a year. An ATT that does not cover ammunition will fail to achieve what it has set out to do – that is, to help prevent human suffering, armed conflict, and serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights. Several countries are arguing that ammunition should be excluded from the ATT. Some of these countries say the sheer volume of trade makes it too difficult to monitor. This would be a colossal mistake. There are already several ways to track ammunition transfers. Inclusion in the ATT would significantly strengthen these mechanisms and the resolve to implement them. Failure would undermine what best practice already exists.
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  OXFAM BRIEFING THE FINAL COUNTDOWN www.oxfam.org   STOP A BULLET, STOP A WAR Why ammunition must be included in the Arms Trade Treaty MAY 2012 Oxfam is a member of     2 Summary   ã  Guns are useless without bullets. An Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) that does not control ammunition will not achieve its purposes. ã  Ammunition is bigger business than weapons. Twelve billion bullets are produced each year  –  nearly two bullets for every person in the world. The global trade in ammunition for small arms and light weapons is worth more than the trade in firearms and light weapons themselves: an estimated $4.3bn per annum. ã  The international trade in ammunition is even less accountable and transparent than the trade in arms. Ammunition flows are difficult to monitor, so the risk of diversion to unauthorised or illicit users is increased. ã  Several countries, including the USA, China, Egypt and Syria, are arguing that ammunition should be excluded from the ATT. Some of these countries say the sheer volume of trade makes it too difficult to monitor. This would be a colossal mistake. There are now several reasonably simple and effective ways to track ammunition transfers. Inclusion in the ATT would significantly strengthen these mechanisms and the resolve to implement them. Failure would undermine what best practice already exists. SILENCING THE GUNS: THE IMPORTANCE OF EFFECTIVE AMMUNITION CONTROLS Wars cannot be fought without ammunition. When the principal targets of attack are civilians, as has been the case in many recent conflicts, a lack of ammunition can even make a difference between atrocities being carried out or not. For example, in June 2003, anti-government forces attacking Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, were forced to retreat when they ran out of ammunition. It was only when they received fresh  –  illegal  –  supplies from neighbouring Guinea that they were able to resume their onslaught, which proved to be the longest and most devastating attack on Monrovia‟s civilians. 1  Countless lives were lost and a massive humanitarian operation had to be undertaken by Oxfam and others. 2  In 2007, a lack of ammunition forced warring pastoralists in South Sudan to resolve their disputes peacefully. 3  In 2010, the panel of experts monitoring the UN Security Council arms embargo in Somalia reported that the absence of readily available ammunition for certain types of weapons had limited their popularity and use by armed groups. 4   An Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) that does not cover ammunition will fail to achieve what it has set out to do  –  that is, to help prevent human suffering, armed conflict, and serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights. It is illogical to argue otherwise. Guns can be almost endlessly recycled and re-used, moving from conflict to conflict. 5   The phrase „w hen the war ends, the guns remain ‟  is often heard in parts of Africa, where it is estimated that more than 50 per cent of small arms and light weapons in circulation are used illegally, not only in conflicts but in armed robbery, organised crime and terrorism. 6  This self-perpetuating cycle of violence can only continue so long as it is fuelled by the irresponsible transfer of ammunition. A global system of strong, legally binding controls on ammunition transfers under an ATT would help stem the flow of ammunition to human rights abusers, repressive regimes and illicit armed groups, rendering many of their weapons ineffective.   3 ENHANCING TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY The trade in ammunition is even less accountable and transparent than the trade in arms. Only a small number of countries report on their ammunition exports and there are hardly any reports by intergovernmental agencies covering this trade. Often data on ammunition is not categorised separately and is just lumped in with data on arms exports, 7  making it difficult to determine the actual volume of international trade in ammunition and to monitor where it actually ends up. However, it is certain that the trade in ammunition is very, very big business. An estimated 12 billion rounds of ammunition are produced each year  8    –  nearly two bullets for every person in the world. Studies estimate that the trade in ammunition for small arms and light weapons is worth $4.3bn per annum  –  more valuable than the trade in small arms and light weapons themselves (an estimated $2.68bn). 9  It is also growing at a faster rate. 10  Oversight and documentation of ammunition transfers is all the more important because ammunition is even more easily transferable than arms, and thus can be more easily diverted from legitimate to illicit users. Some of the biggest gaps in information relate to undocumented ammunition transfers to countries undergoing high-intensity conflicts, including Afghanistan and Somalia, 11  where, even if the initial transaction was legitimate, there are significant risks of diversion. In 2009, 57 per cent of a sample of rifle magazines found on Taliban casualties in  Afghanistan contained cartridges or bullets identical to ammunition that the USA had provided to its ally, the Afghan government forces. 12  Similarly in Somalia, the UN Monitoring Group estimated that, in 2008, as much as 80 per cent of the arms, ammunition and other material supplied to support the Transitional Federal Government had been diverted to opposition groups, the Somali arms market, or for private purposes. 13   STRENGTHENING EXISTING CONTROLS Several countries, including China, the Philippines, Vietnam and the USA, have argued that including ammunition in the ATT would be too difficult to implement and manage  –  given the sheer volume produced and exported, as well as the challenges faced in tracing individual rounds. 14  They say that having ammunition in the ATT would create a huge set of new obligations that would be too difficult to monitor. However, despite deficiencies in practice, the overwhelming majority of states that export military equipment already have controls for ammunition through their arms export control systems. Most countries assess licence applications for arms and ammunition transfers in the same way and apply the same risk assessment thresholds. The USA does this and similar explicit arrangements are in force in the EU and within countries participating in the Wassenaar  Arrangement. 15  Several regional and multilateral instruments also explicitly seek to control the cross-border trade in ammunition. These include the 2006 ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons and the 2005 Best Practice Guidelines on Small Arms and Light Weapons in the Horn and Eastern Africa. 16  The problem, as is often the case, is not with the existing regulations  per se , it is that they are not always properly enforced or backed up with robust oversight and monitoring mechanisms. This applies to the international arms trade more generally. On the one hand, transparency has improved steadily over the past 20 years. On the other hand, reporting remains inconsistent and incomplete. 17  Few governments provide regular and comprehensive information about their arms transfers; only 34 states have publicly reported on their arms exports at least once since 2006. 18  It is important to note, however, that 28 of these 34 managed to include ammunition in their reporting as a separate and discrete category.  4 The ATT is intended to change that by strengthening existing controls and enhancing transparency and accountability in the arms trade generally. With regards to ammunition, the least transparent aspect of that trade, the ATT should seek to replicate, widen, encourage and strengthen the best practice that already exists, rather than ignore it and weaken or still further undermine it. Just as it will not be necessary to monitor the transfer of every single firearm individually, under the ATT an effective risk assessment system will not mean that the journey of every individual bullet has to be monitored. HOW CAN THE ARMS TRADE TREATY HELP? 1. Enhancing national control systems for ammunition The ATT will set out a global regulatory framework for authorising and recording international transfers of arms. To do this effectively countries will have to: establish a national system, including clear legislation; develop and strengthen administrative capacity for processing all aspects of transfers; and introduce mechanisms for monitoring and enforcing compliance. Establishing these systems will have to be done regardless of whether ammunition is included, but existing best practice illustrates that once in place, national export control systems are fully capable of controlling ammunition transfers in the same way as arms.   2. Setting out risk assessment criteria for both arms and ammunition transfers The ATT will set out a list of risk assessment criteria against which transfers of arms will be assessed before approval. Using this system does not require monitoring each individual firearm, or each individual bullet, in order to assess the risk of misuse or diversion of arms or ammunition to unauthorised end users. Rather, under the ATT, transfer licensing authorities would apply a systematic methodology that considers past trends or patterns, intelligence, and credible information about prior misuse or diversion by the stated end-user. Such assessments would also consider whether there is a substantial risk of ammunition being used to commit serious human rights violations. Exporting states would be obliged to consider the track record of the end user and bear a share of the responsibility if arms or ammunition were subsequently diverted. In fact, in some ways it should be easier to monitor end use and identify sources of diversion of ammunition than of firearms. This is because ammunition used in conflicts typically srcinates from state actors who were srcinally in legal possession of it, rather than from private individuals. A job lot of small arms ammunition produced for state actors is typically only transferred to a single, or a small number of, end users.
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