Skip to main content
Amnesty International UK
Log in

Arms Trade Treaty history - twenty years in the making?

I'm in New York for final talks to agree the Arms Trade Treaty that I've been campaigning for for nearly twenty years.

Two days ago things were looking as bleak as the weather here in NYC. The climate in the room for many of us was like the weather outside; cold, grey and miserable. We were looking at a potential treaty that was vague on its human rights protections and we were staring at a draft treaty that wasn't fit for purpose.

Twenty years of campaigning by us and our allies was under threat, possibly leading to a weak agreement that would still allow the transfer of weapons to human rights abusers; one that was overly secretive and one that couldn't be improved in the future. A weak agreement frozen in time that did more to protect the economic and strategic interests of the arms exporters than it did to improve the lives of the millions of people around the world who day in and day out suffer the devastating effects of armed violence and conflict. 

Two days later, the clouds have gone, spring has arrived and the Arms Trade Treaty is back on!  The final draft of the treaty text is much improved. Thanks in no small part to your action taking, many of the things we wanted to see improved have been.  

It's not perfect by any means and it clearly has deficiencies. It is, however, an undeniable fact that if states implement their obligations in good faith, this Treaty would prevent the transfer of arms to those that will use them to commit atrocities.

This was our mission when we started this journey twenty years ago and today we are tantalisingly close to realising that goal.

In less than 48 hours, we've managed to tighten the rules around when governments can and cannot sell weapons. A section of the Treaty that was once vague, unclear and gave too much room for states to wriggle out of, now contains obligations to deny weapons where it is clear that they will contribute to serious violations of human rights and international law.

States would have to now implement an effective and transparent export control system (that’s the system a state will be required to use to determine when it can and cannot transfer arms) to regulate all transfers conventional weapons, including ammunition and parts and components

States now have clear obligations to deny any transfers that risk arms being diverted to the illicit market. 

The equipment covered remains too narrow - ammunition and parts and components are still not fully covered. But we did win a crucial clause that encourages states to regulate a much broader list of equipment.

Crucially the treaty will now not be frozen in time. Amendments can be made by a majority process, allowing us to make it future proof, capturing future new weapons technologies and to continue to strengthen its provisions.

States are also obligated to submit annual reports of their arms transfers so we will be able to hold them to account over the decisions they make. 

Your campaigning has had a massive impact. All of you that have written, emailed, tweeted and spoken to your MP's in the last few weeks, you helped ensure the UK championed many of our demands during these negotiations.

Outside of the UK, we mobilised around the world, we spoke directly to Foreign ministers at home and diplomats here at the UN. Our campaigners and activists all over the world sent messages to their governments telling them not to squander this once in a lifetime opportunity to bring the international arms trade under effective control. 

We now have everything to play for tomorrow. Right now, governments are deciding whether this is a document they can support. It remains to be seen if any states will use their right of veto to block the agreement. Tomorrow, like every day of these negotiations so far, will be tense and unpredictable. But no matter what, this treaty is coming and it will help save lives.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
View latest posts