The first conference of members to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), will take place in Cancun, Mexico later this month. Sadly, India, a country hoping for a seat on the UN Security Council, will be absent from this conference as it is not a signatory.
The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), regulating international trade in conventional arms, from small arms to battle tanks, combat aircraft and warships, was implemented on December 24, 2014. India abstained. Chronic human rights abusers, Syria, Iran and North Korea, became the only three countries to vote against the treaty. However, several key powers abstained from voting, including Russia, China and India – taking the gloss off what was otherwise an historic vote.
With the signing of the ATT, all states party to the treaty are required to conduct comprehensive risk assessments before authorizing arms exports. The ATT also prohibits states from exporting conventional weapons in violation of arms embargoes, or weapons that would be used for acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes or terrorism.
Until the adoption of the ATT, states had no obligation with respect to the transfer of arms. This permitted perpetrators of human rights violations and actors involved in other illicit activities freedom to purchase and stock arsenals without comprehensive controls, accountability or significant regulatory consequences.
The ATT explicitly demands that states place upholding human rights laws and IHL (International Humanitarian Law) at the core of their arms export decisions. Signatories to the treaty are also required to prevent arms transfers that would abet terrorism, organized crime, gender-based violence (GBV) or violence against children. This is beneficial to India as it can keep track of terror organizations and, through the UN, prevent the supply of arms from reaching these organizations.
To a vast extent, the signing of UN treaties has helped India democratize and improve the state of human rights in the country. For example, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which India ratified in 1992 has improved the educational system. It has established centers in all the districts of the country, prohibited corporal punishment in all institutions, increased the budget allocation for the realization of Child Rights, and formulated new legislation to counter sexual exploitation and abuse of children.
India signed the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, commonly known as the United Nations Convention against Torture in 1997 which has resulted in a remarkable reduction of custodial deaths in India apart from the reduction of third degree methods of torture.
India is the largest importer of arms in the world and is likely to spend approximately USD 100 billion for the import of weapons and defence equipment over the next 10 years although India has not fought a conventional war since 1971. The IPKF adventure and Kargil were mere operations as a result of misguided policies and lack of vigilance on the borders.
India must decide whether human security is important as opposed to unwanted expenditure on the procurement of arms. The huge sums of money could be put to use to promote education, provide drinking water, shelter, poverty elimination programs, health care, social security benefits etc.
India offers flimsy reasons for not signing the landmine treaty as this treaty has reduced casualties from landmines by more than two thirds (2/3), and reduced the trade in landmines to almost zero.
Countries that join the treaty would have to report publicly on sales every year. This would be in the interest of ensuring transparency as India has been bogged down by many arms scandals.
So far none of the domestic legislations towards control of illegal weapons have been successful. In fact there is an alarming rise of seizure of illegal arms from across the country. It is to be noted that weapons include all types and the number of persons arrested has increased as well. These facts confirm that India needs International help to counter this problem and the ATT is the answer.
It is time for India, as the world’s largest democracy, to join democratic forces in leading the world towards humanitarian solutions which would save money and resources and promote human development rather than joining countries like Russia and China in opposing such treaties.
It is time to reflect once again on what Noble laureate, Amartya Sen, wrote in the International Herald Tribune in 2006: “My own country, India, has good reason to use whatever influence it has, especially with the growing recognition of its importance in the global world. This is not only because reduction of armed conflicts fits well into the global objectives that were championed by India when it struggled for independence and sought a global voice, but also because India itself suffers a great deal from the illicit movement of arms that feed local insurrections and terrorist acts.”
The ATT is the best way forward towards ending the availability and use of arms.