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“The world must regulate the arms trade” (Famiglia Cristiana) by Giulio Terzi

The United Nations Conference to negotiate an Arms Trade Treaty has come to a close in New York. For years now, the International Community has been trying to regulate international trade in arms and weapons materials. Several countries, including Italy and, more generally, the European Union, have strict control systems. But others – many others – have few, and weak, controls, or none at all.


All too often in recent years we have seen countries supply arms – carelessly, almost – to other states that were systematically violating human rights or international humanitarian law. We intend to reduce such conduct by making a concrete contribution to strengthening international security and peace, including by taking effective action to counter the unlawful trade in and proliferation of arms. Italy is engaged, on all fronts, in strengthening the international system for the protection of human rights and the international humanitarian laws, especially those designed to protect the most vulnerable: women, children, and people with disabilities.


We must first of all identify the mechanisms whereby a state can automatically deny supplies to another state that is subject to a Security Council embargo, or which is violating human rights and humanitarian laws. At the same time, we need a framework of rules governing arms trading, which each state will then be required to implement – in concrete terms, and without loopholes.


Italy is ready. Law 185 of 1990, one of the most rigorous of any country’s, provided for a dedicated office to be set up at the Foreign Ministry to authorise arms exports. The European Directive 43/2009 simplifying terms and conditions of transfers of defence-related products within the Community was implemented recently in full harmony with the provisions of Law 185.


Another important factor is transparency. At present, there are no binding regulations at the international level requiring states to publish information on their arms exports and imports. We need an obligatory mechanism that would make such data available to international public opinion: this would help prevent unlawful trading and the diversion of arms to fuel armed conflict in various regions of the world.


Here too, Italy already provides the utmost transparency through an annual report to Parliament and periodic submission of data to the UN Register of Conventional Arms. In this process, non-governmental organisations pay a valuable awareness-raising role and provide a significant input of ideas and recommendations. Our dialogue with them is both constant and detailed. The New York Conference did not, unfortunately, succeed in achieving consensus on a Treaty text. But the work completed thus far remains, and can provide a basis for future discussion.


The time is right for us to draw up universal rules to regulate the international arms trade. This is an important contribution that the current generation can make to the cause of peace. Italy will increase its efforts to achieve this historic result, which is still within our grasp.