Speech: Arms Trade Treaty (June 21st)

I was pleased to sign Jamie Hepburn’s motion and I congratulate him on bringing the debate to the chamber. As I am interested in the work of the cross-party group on human rights, I welcome the opportunity to discuss the urgent need for a practical yet far-reaching arms trade treaty.

The panoply of statistics that my colleague Jamie Hepburn cited in his motion and his speech is truly harrowing. When we consider that my home town, Ullapool, has fewer inhabitants than the number of people who die every day from armed violence, one gets a sense of the enormity of this human crisis.

There is little regulation of the arms trade. It is ludicrous that weapons as devastating as grenade launchers and serious assault rifles are subject to lax control at best, while the trade in harmless commodities—such as the aforementioned bananas—is strictly regulated globally. That is madness. Those weapons are not used only by countries that are officially at war, but are in many cases used to suppress human rights within countries, with two out of every three people who are killed by armed violence dying in countries that are not at war.

That cycle of violence has obvious human costs, but what must also be borne in mind is the social cost of such needless conflict. Nations at war with themselves, whether it be over territory, resources or another struggle, will never be able to heal and to develop. An unregulated arms trade perpetuates endemic poverty across the world, harms democratic debate and tears apart communities.

For many issues, the treatment can be worse than the disease, but Amnesty’s proposals for an effective arms trade treaty are plausible. Instead of imposing a punitive weapons ban, it proposes a weapons transfer system that would prohibit the sale of weapons that are likely to be used for violations of human rights or international law. It defies belief that any nation could oppose a treaty with such laudable aims that, despite preconceptions, clearly does not call for an outright ban. The support of the UK Government and the defence community, one of the world’s major arms exporters, for such a treaty shows the impact that the lobbying of MSPs and others across civil society can have on this issue.

I urge everybody in the chamber to continue to press the UK Government to hold firm to its line on this first step towards minimising the human cost of armed conflict. This is not some esoteric debate, but a subject on which lives and communities depend, and we must never lose sight of that.


That the Parliament understands that, in July 2012, the UN will begin negotiations on a treaty to better regulate the arms trade; notes that the process toward this was instigated in December 2006 when the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 61/89, Towards an Arms Trade Treaty: establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms; understands that, although the trade in arms is not illegal, campaigning organisations, such as Amnesty International and Oxfam, have expressed concerns that such weapons are often used to violate human rights; considers that this view was echoed by Sergio de Queiroz Duarte who, in December 2010, in his then capacity as the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, told the Arms Trade Treaty Preparatory Committee that, “in all parts of the world, the ready availability of conventional weapons and ammunition has led to human suffering, repression, crime and terror among civilian populations”; notes that Amnesty International has estimated that more than 1,500 people die every day from armed violence and 85% of all of the killings it documents involve guns; further notes that Amnesty International claims that two out of three people killed as a result of armed violence die in countries that are not at war and 60% of all of the human rights abuses it reports involve the use of arms; notes what it understands to be the concerns of many Scots, including those in Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, regarding the impact of such human rights breaches; welcomes the support that has been shown by many member states of the UN, such as the UK, France and Germany, to the concept of an arms trade treaty, but understands that these three countries are among the world‟s biggest arms exporters; further welcomes the change in stance of the US Government, under President Obama, indicating that it is now in favour of a treaty; would welcome a strong arms trade treaty that all member states of the UN can ratify, which restricts the trade of arms to regimes that are likely to use them to violate human rights, and believes that such a treaty is necessary to achieve a more human rights-centric international arms trade.