SPEECH: Why the Arms Trade needs a Peacemaker approach


I am not a particularly religious person - but my politics and that of the Labour Party owe more to Methodism than Marxism.

Matthew 5.9 is a guiding principle that is as pertinent today as it was when it was written: “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”

Amnesty international estimate that roughly half a million people are killed every year with firearms in the battlefield, as a result of state repression and criminal gangs.

Millions around the world die because they are denied access to things that most people in my constituency take for granted - decent health care, water, food, shelter.

But they are trapped in conflicts fuelled by the poorly controlled flow of arms. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, it is estimated that more than five million people have died because of the armed conflict since 1998.

This new politics that puts people before unfettered profiteering, demands that it is time for the march of the peacemakers.

Some may ask why this is a concern for my constituent’s in Ashton under Lyne?

Some may talk about job creation and economic growth stemming from the arms trade.

Well, I say this: over the last few weeks hundreds of my constituents have written to me demanding that the current government show more compassion to the families, women and children fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria.

I wholeheartedly agree that the government needs to do more, that we take our fair share of those seeking sanctuary and refuge.

But I also say that we need to do more to deal with the causes of the migration crisis and tackle head-on those countries that supply arms to regimes and nations that have appalling human rights records.

On the question of job creation, the arms industry is in decline while new and emerging industries require research, investment and development.

The greatest investment towards conflict resolution is the creation of jobs, building of houses, good schools, hospitals and road and rail infrastructure. This is the Peacemaker approach.

I do have a real concern that despite the grand words and intentions of the Arms Trade Treaty, an event such as the DSEI arms trade fair carries on in ignorant bliss.

Let me remind people in this room and beyond what that treaty requires: that no state authorises arms transfers to those committing genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and serious violations of human rights law, or turns a blind eye to dealers supplying arms likely to be used to commit serious human rights violations.

The UK government is of course one of the signatories of the Treaty. So serious questions must be asked of our government's arms sales agency, the UK Trade & Investment Defence and Security (UKTI DSO).

An agency that has issued official invitations to 61 countries, four of them on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's list of countries of concern on human rights grounds - Colombia, Iraq, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia - plus others where human rights are a major issue such as Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Nigeria and the United Arabia Emirates as well as Ukraine.

And let us not forget that much of the military hardware supplied to Israel was utilised for the bombing of Gaza in 2014. The ATT must be  more than a paper exercise.

The March of the Peacemakers, the new politics that so many in our nation our crying out for, needs to ensure that we press the UN and all signatories of the ATT to fully implement the obligations of the treaty.

We also need to invest both aid and time into the industries of peace, stability and sustainable growth to create a safer world for all.

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