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India and the Arms Trade Treaty

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					India and the Arms Trade Treaty

By Anuradha M. Chenoy

India is a victim of gun violence that when added up equals mass destruction.
Such destruction comes from insurgencies, criminal activities and inter­personal
violence, but the method is the same. India possesses 40 million firearms many
illegal according to United Nations sources.

These weapons impact the polity, social life and the economy. They are linked to
illegal trafficking and unaccountable cash that manages political clout and
sustains conflicts. An international arms trade treaty is a way out of this spiral.
Illegal weapons are infiltrated from the vast borders and sea routes from India’s
unstable neighboring countries that are unable to control militia.

India however is reluctant to endorse a UN sponsored treaty, the Arms Trade
and Transfers (ATT) that proposes rules to regulate the transfer of conventional
arms based on the principle that arms exporters and importers have a
responsibility to ensure that they do not provide weapons that would be used in
serious violations of international law. The ATT would reinforce states’ existing
responsibilities under international law and provide a mechanism for their
application to the trade in weapons.

The Treaty proposes that countries importing arms must meet criterion like
promotion of democracy; do not violate human rights; do not engage in civil war
and armed conflict; commit genocide, etc. It opposes the sale of arms to states
that support terrorism; and advocates marking of weapons so as to it source and
end use; it looks into the issue of brokers and their registration. It in no way
targets the legitimate security needs of countries or the legal transfer of arms.

India has always critiqued the illicit arms trade and supported the 2001
Programme of Action that called for an ATT. They supported the international
conventional arms registry. However, India has reservations on the ATT and in
October and December 2006, while USA opposed the ATT, India abstained.
India’s has opposed because it does not want any Treaty bound to social clauses
like violations of human rights. Underlying this is the fear of intervention based
on such clauses. Thus India wants the UN to deal only on illicit rather than
expanding to the licit trade and it argues that the Treaty should not be dealing
with the consequences of the illicit trade like armed violence, internal conflicts,
underdevelopments etc.

The question however is that first, any regulation without binding clauses has
limited success unless accompanied by strict normative framework for
controlling licit trade of arms. Second, there is a well established and continuous
link between the licit and illicit trade that has been repeatedly shown. Third,
India should logically fear the drastic impact of small arms rather fear binding
clauses that address universally accepted principles of international
humanitarian law.

India has always argued that its approach to disarmament and international
security is guided by a strong commitment to international humanitarian law.
The ATT only reiterates those principles that have already been universally
accepted and are in place coinciding with articles of UN Charter. India is an
established democracy with legitimate institutions that safeguard citizens’ rights.
It has national instruments to address human rights and it adheres to major
international conventions. India should have the confidence to accept such
international instruments. The development of such national criteria will
strengthen India’s national claims on security rather than erode them.


The global principles will further India’s interest since the ATT code encourages
criteria, like promotion of democracy that favours of India. The global principles
oppose sale to states that support terrorist and engaged in aggression and who
systematically violate human rights, e.g. arbitrary executions, genocide etc. India
does not fall into this category. India is a victim of irresponsible arms transfers
and India can effectively use this treaty for its benefit.

The proposed Treaty is in keeping with India’s historic role for non­violence,
civil order and universal disarmament. India’s Constitution and national laws
support gun control. India has in place a legal and adjudicatory system for
controlling small arms. It has an autonomous National Human rights
Commission to address violations. These national laws conform to international
standards. India should not fear binding clauses. That fear should reside in states
that are habitual violators of rights, do not conform to democratic principles.
Such an abstention represents a kind of moral failure.

The Indian government has repeatedly admitted the easy availability of illegal
arms and that they are unable to stop or even arrest people engaged in such
illegal sale or production. Indian Defence Ministry A.K. Antony stated that the
recent seizure of illegal weapons was ‘the tip of the iceberg’. It is thus logical
that the international community adopt a treaty to regulate illicit arms trade.
India has a historic opportunity to be involved in such an important process.

Anuradha M. Chenoy, Professor, School of International Studies, JNU and is Honorary Vice­
President, Control Arms Foundation of India

				
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