Christian Leaders Celebrate Adoption of the World’s First Arms Trade Treaty

“We give thanks to God for the adoption of the world’s first Arms Trade Treaty and for the efforts by a large majority of countries and many civil society groups to bring it into existence,” said an April 3 public statement by World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Olav Fykse Tveit.

The Arms Trade Treaty was adopted on April 2 by the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York. It was voted for by 155 countries including the United States. The WCC is one of the Christian groups around the world celebrating the adoption of the treaty, along with other humanitarian organizations.

Church of the Brethren general secretary Stan Noffsinger and Nathan Hosler, coordinator of the denomination’s Office of Public Witness, were among the American church leaders to encourage the Obama administration to agree that the US be among nations voting for the treaty.

A “New York Times” report characterized the treaty as “a pioneering treaty aimed at regulating the enormous global trade in conventional weapons, for the first time linking sales to the human rights records of the buyers. Although implementation is years away and there is no specific enforcement mechanism, proponents say the treaty would for the first time force sellers to consider how their customers will use the weapons and to make that information public. The goal is to curb the sale of weapons that kill tens of thousands of people every year.”

However, the Times also reported that the National Rifle Association (NRA) has vowed to fight ratification of the treaty by the US Congress.

The WCC is calling the Arms Trade Treaty “a milestone in efforts to bring commerce in deadly weapons under much-needed controls,” according to Tveit. “This long-overdue act of international governance means that people in many parts of the world who live in fear for their lives will eventually be safer…. Churches in all regions share in the suffering caused by armed violence,” Tveit noted. “We can all now give thanks that national authorities responsible for public safety and well-being have finally adopted binding regulations for the global arms trade.”

The WCC had been a leader in an Ecumenical Campaign for a Strong and Effective Arms Trade Treaty. Tveit praised efforts by the churches and organizations in more than 40 countries who joined in the ecumenical campaign. “Together, we have helped in the long struggle to make the treaty strong and effective so that it can save lives and protect communities. Our first reason for doing so is to put a human face on the heavy scourge of armed violence,” he said.

The campaign grew from a WCC Central Committee action followed by recruitment at the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in 2011. With policy set by the WCC Executive Committee in early 2012 and almost two years of mobilization, the campaign eventually reached nearly 100 churches and ministries who advocated for the Arms Trade Treaty. The campaign focused on ways that the treaty can help to save lives and protect communities. Campaigners made repeated contacts with governments in their countries in parallel with ecumenical lobbying related to treaty meetings at UN sessions in New York and Geneva.

“From Syria to Democratic Republic of Congo, from Sudan to Colombia, our prayers will continue for people afflicted by violence and injustice,” Tveit said. “With them, we all need weapons to be controlled, given up and melted down into useful implements.”

— This report is adapted from a World Council of Churches release. Read the full WCC release at www.oikoumene.org/en/news/news-management/eng/a/article/1634/worlds-first-arms-trade.html . Read Tveit’s public comment on the treaty at www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/general-secretary/statements/adoption-of-arms-trade-treaty.html .