Working for Oxfam’s arms trade campaign

My training contract at Wragge & Co has given me the opportunity to undertake 6 months of pro bono work for Oxfam GB.

Leaving behind the comfort of the Birmingham office I moved to Oxfam House in Oxford to join the legal team. What I was not prepared for was the variety of work that would come my way. From drafting contracts for the purchase of goods to co-ordinating experts giving advice on the Arms Trade Treaty, no one day has been the same. 

I took this secondment as I wanted to see how the law was being used in a practical way to shape the world we live in. What better place to start than Oxfam?

Over the last few weeks the First Committee of the General Assembly met at the UN Headquarters in New York to discuss the implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty adopted in April 2013 after 20 years of campaigning from civil society.

The treaty will regulate the international transfer of conventional weapons putting human rights and humanitarian law at the heart of arms transfer decisions. Oxfam is part of the Control Arms Group coalition and the legal team has set up a network of pro bono experts from all over the world who specialise in international and humanitarian law, trades law and treaty law and UN procedure.

The expert’s role was to provide legal support to organisations and governments seeking a strong treaty throughout the negotiations. During the First Committee meeting experts were on hand to provide support on treaty interpretation and implementation.

My role was to not only help co-ordinate the experts but to provide some research on gender based violence. For the first time in history a treaty had an explicit reference to gender based violence. The research that I provided was turned into a short presentation that Oxfam gave in New York during the First Committee.

In turn it is now being recognised at an international level that this is an important precedent for future treaties and that the impact of the availability of small arms and light weapons means that gender based violence should take centre stage within issues of disarmament and security.

As clichéd as it sounds at the end of each day I leave Oxfam knowing that somewhere I have helped someone whether it be helping the trading team simplify their contracts or providing research to the policies team on where terrorists are operating in relation to Oxfam projects. That sense of fulfilment is very rewarding.

Wragge & Co trainee Emily Billing