The grave reality of an uncontrolled arms trade

The uncontrolled flow of arms devastates millions of lives and decimates communities....

It’s so easy to become desensitised to the true horrors of armed violence when we hear immense numbers like millions and thousands. It becomes possible to overlook the grief and pain of the family members left behind, to ignore the unthinkable pain of death and torture experienced by children, women and men, and inflicted by the barrel, or bullet, of the gun.

In a way, unquantifiable numbers sanitises the brutal impact of the gun, the grenade and the bomb.

This is why investigations like that of Martin Chulov’s in Monday’s Guardian are so important.  Chulov’s compelling investigation into the Aleppo massacre in Syria which was uncovered earlier this year paints a graphic – sometimes difficult to read – picture of the ‘brutal execution’ of 110 men whose bodies were discovered as the river waters subsided. He reports how the men were “shot in the head, their hands bound with plastic ties behind their back.”  His account goes on to detail when they were likely to have been abducted and the torture they endured before they died.  Chulov’s report presents one of the clearest arguments yet as to why an effective international Arms Trade Treaty is so urgently needed.

Amnesty’s new briefing published today looks at the global impact of the arms trade. It highlights how the UK, the USA, China, France and Russia – the permanent members of the UN Security Council – are responsible for half of the world’s global arms trade and how arms transfers from these countries are likely to be used to commit or facilitate serious human rights violations.  It refers to how Syria has historically received its weapons and ammunition from Russia and continues to do so.  It also highlights how foreign brokers use front companies in the UK to assist in the supply of weapons and ammunition to countries where they are likely to be used for human rights violations.  Between 2007 and 2008, for example, large consignments of Ukrainian tanks, small arms and light weapons were delivered to South Sudan via a UK “brass-plate company”. These battle tanks were later seen being used in civilian-populated areas in South Sudan’s Mayom County.

Yes, Amnesty’s report looks at the big numbers. But given that 85% of all killings documented by Amnesty involve guns, it is necessary to provide such global oversight. Particularly given that there is less than one week to go before world leaders meet at the United Nations to negotiate an international Arms Trade Treaty.

If delivered effectively, an Arms Trade Treaty has the potential to save lives. It has the potential to prevent weapons ending up where they are likely to be used to extra-judicially execute, torture, or maim people.

Impossible, cynics may jeer. I don’t fall into that camp. Last July we were on the verge of seeing that vision realised. It was stopped at the last minute by countries wanting to have more time to think about it. They’ve had more time.  Next week, it’s time for countries to agree and decide a treaty which can really be effective.

The people of Syria, Sudan and other parts of the world directly impacted by a poorly regulated arms trade are depending on it. For more, visit

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