6 Jun 2013

Pacific nations urged to sign UN small arms treaty

4:55 pm on 6 June 2013

The Executive Director of Oxfam in New Zealand says Pacific nations have led the way in their support for the United Nations Small Arms Trade Treaty.

The treaty, which forces countries to consider human rights before making any deal to trade arms, opened for signatures this week in New York, after being passed almost unanimously by the General Assembly.

Tuvalu and Palau are the first Pacific countries to sign the treaty alongside Australia, New Zealand and 60 other countries around the world.

Samoa's Prime Minister will sign in September.

Barry Coates says he hopes other Pacific nations will do the same because the treaty could help prevent such conflicts as those seen in Solomon Islands and Bougainville.

BARRY COATES: It's a major step forward to have a United Nations trade treaty for the Pacific, and one of the things that it provides is for some controls over the flood of small arms and conventional weapons that can often end up destabilising states, causing serious problems for citizens who are threatened by guns and destabilised governments. So in all of this, this is a United Nations treaty. And I think the Pacific nations can be very proud of themselves for having played a really positive role in supporting the progressive proposals and getting this really historic treaty signed. It's actually signed over the opposition of many of the countries who are responsible for most of the sales of small arms around the world.

JAMIE TAHANA: So far, only Palao and Tuvalu have signed it. Does this mean anything?

BC: No, I don't think so. For example, Samoa has said that they're waiting for the head of the UN General Assembly, so that the head of state can sign it. We're certainly hoping other Pacific nations will take that step, because having the prime minister or head of state sign the treaty provides a really strong message that it will be fully implemented. So we're really hopeful that all of the Pacific states will sign it pretty quickly. The next step after signing it is that the treaty has to be ratified, and that means checking that there's legislation to properly implement it, ensure that it doesn't affect other forms of legislation, ensure the procedures are in place. So the treaty itself comes into force once 50 states around the world have ratified it. And it would be great if the Pacific was in the leading charge of the first states to sign it.

JT: How much of a challenge is it to ratify it, though? The resources aren't quite there. How do they do this?

BC: But on the other hand, for the Pacific there is some support from the United Nations in what the steps are towards ratification. And we're certainly talking to New Zealand and Australia and asking them to provide support for the Pacific countries in the ratification process. So we're hopeful that it'll actually be a very straightforward process, the ratification. There are some procedural steps and each each of the Pacific countries will have to check that they have the right legislation in place or introduce new legislation. So that is important. But, again, there's some support that can come to help those processes along the way.

JT: Will this matter if the big arms manufacturers have not signed the treaty?

BC:Well, it's kind of like the landmines treaty. Not all countries around the world eventually signed the landmines treaty. Particularly the United States has been one of the countries that hasn't, one or two other major powers. So the thing that happens with these treaties, once they come into force and it becomes the international norm that countries will be adjusting their behaviour in accordance with the new treaty, then the major states are pretty much forced to come into line with it.