Officials from more than 100 governments are expected to attend the first weapons trade conference in Mexico this week to address the global arms race fueling human rights abuses and war crimes.
The inaugural Conference of State Parties, taking place in Cancun from August 24-27, will follow the lead of the global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)—which was adopted in 2013 but still awaits implementation by world powers.
The ATT aims to regulate the international weapons industry through what the European Union describes as "greater responsibility and transparency." Many of the state representatives attending the conference have yet to sign or ratify the treaty.
The U.S., which is the number one weapons producer and exporter globally, has signed the treaty, but has not yet ratified it.
"We expect to reach agreement on all the issues on the agenda," particularly establishing a financial plan for participating governments, Mexico's UN ambassador Jorge Lomonaco told Reuters on Monday. Lomonaco is overseeing the conference.
"Cancún marks the first major test for the Arms Trade Treaty, and states will have an important opportunity to make history by following through on the treaty’s lifesaving goals," said Amnesty International's Marek Marczynski.
The ATT must be fully implemented to prevent weapons from crossing through the black market and ending up "in the wrong hands," the EU said in a statement. This week's conference presents the first "opportunity to lay solid foundations for the ATT regime, by notably adopting its rules of procedure and financial rules, agreeing [to] common reporting arrangements and establishing the ATT Secretariat."
Oscar Arias Sanchez, former President of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Prize winner, said the conference gives international actors an opportunity to speak for victims of the arms trade. "When weapons are circulating freely into the worst possible hands, the law must speak. When the lives of the innocent are placed in danger by an absence of regulation, the law must speak," he wrote in an op-ed published on Common Dreams this week. "And we must speak, today – in favor of this crucial treaty, and its swift and effective implementation. If we do, then when today’s children of conflict look to us for guidance and leadership, we will no longer look away in shame."
"[N]o sane definition of national sovereignty includes the right to sell arms for the violation of human rights in other countries," Sanchez wrote. "A nation willing to carry out such an act is not defending itself, but rather infringing upon the sovereignty of other nations that only want to live in peace."
For its part, Amnesty International will be attending the conference to ensure that "the talks don't get bogged down in bureaucracy or lose sight of the ATT's guiding principles—effective and transparent regulation to end the human suffering caused by irresponsible flows of conventional arms," Marczynski added.
As Oxfam pointed out in a blog post published Monday, the ATT had "the fastest entry into force of any arms control treaty ever."
Nonetheless, as Amnesty explains, there are issues of secrecy and corrupting forces surrounding its implementation. "Some states are trying to curb the role of civil society by significantly restricting their participation in future ATT conferences and making an increasing number of key decisions behind closed doors in secret sessions," the organization writes, adding that there are a number of other participants which "have attempted to strip their ATT reporting requirements down to a bare minimum."
"Shutting civil society out of some of the most important discussions and not making annual reports on arms imports and exports public will mean ‘business as usual’—arms transfers will remain shrouded in secrecy, undermining the purpose of the ATT. This must not be allowed to happen," Marczynski said.
Only 72 countries have ratified the ATT thus far, including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK—some of the world's top arms exporters.