In South Sudan earlier this year, 6,000 young fighters from one ethnic group attacked another ethnic group in a dispute over cattle stealing. They killed about 600 people. The attackers were from an ethnic group that had been through a disarmament process just two years ago. Now they have brand new guns. “Where does one get new guns for 6,000 young men?” asked South Sudanese MP and faith leader Joy Kwaje.

There are currently more global trade regulations for bananas than there are for weapons. But things are due for a change. In July, the member states of the United Nations - including Australia - are meeting in New York to negotiate a global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).

CAMPAIGNING FOR A STRONGER ARMS TRADE TREATY: Act for Peace's Sarah Gregory at a recent gathering of campaigners in South Africa. PICTURE: Geronimo Desumala/WCC.

"Governments must realise that the trade in arms has human consequences. Human rights and human dignity must be secured in the Arms Trade Treaty."

To ensure world leaders don’t walk away from such a vital and potentially lifesaving agreement, an ecumenical campaign is under way to lobby for a strong and effective treaty. 

Convened by the World Council of Churches, the campaign brings together some 60 churches and organisations in 31 countries, including Act for Peace, the international aid agency of the National Council of Churches in Australia. 

Act for Peace has been campaigning in Australia and internationally for a strong and effective ATT. The goal is an ATT with both strong criteria and effective implementation provisions that help protect communities and save lives. 

Governments must realise that the trade in arms has human consequences. Human rights and human dignity must be secured in the Arms Trade Treaty.

Known for long-running program, the Christmas Bowl, Act for Peace has been working on peace-building and armed violence reduction in many of the world’s most conflict-affected countries for more than 63 years.

As well as advocating for a strong ATT, Act for Peace supports effective armed violence reduction and peace programs in many of the countries where people suffer as a result of armed violence fuelled by irresponsible arms trading, including Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan. 

Every day, around 2,000 people are killed by armed violence, the majority of them civilians. An effective ATT is expected to play an important role in reducing the supply of arms that are used in such violence as the one in South Sudan.

Joy Kwaje from South Sudan says: “By building consistent trade policies around the world, a strong and effective Arms Trade Treaty would make it much more difficult for young people to obtain illegal weapons. An ATT would help save lives.” 

While Australia has a good track-record in supporting an Arms Trade Treaty, there are concerns that the final agreement may lack substance. 

“Churches and people of faith should be worried about the potential for a weak treaty. At the end of the day, what can we say that we have done? Support for a strong and effective ATT is about caring for our communities and vulnerable people all over the world,” says Nomfundo Walaza of the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre in Cape Town.

The ecumenical campaign is guided by a belief that life is sacred and must be protected.  

“From conflict zones to gang violence, from guns used in instances of rape and sexual violence to arms deals that fuel conflict and tear communities apart, a strong and effective ATT would stop arms shipments from going to places where it is clear that people would abuse them,” says Daniel Pieper, ATT campaign manager and research associate for the World Council of Churches’ United Nations liaison office.

Call on the Australian Government to help deliver a strong and effective Arms Trade Treaty. To sign the petition, follow this link: www.actforpeace.org.au/Act/Advocacy-Campaigns/Petitions/Arms_Treaty_Now.aspx.

Sarah Gregory and Corinne Roberts work on campaigns and advocacy for Act for Peace.