Skip to main content
Amnesty International UK
Log in

Amnesty International seals historic victory as UN puts human rights at heart of Arms

Video footage and spokespeople available in New York and London
Today, governments at the United Nations in New York adopted an Arms Treaty by a wide margin that will prohibit states from transferring conventional weapons to countries when they know those weapons will be used to commit or facilitate genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.
In the UN General Assembly 154 states voted to adopt the Treaty just days after Iran, North Korea and Syria – three human rights-abusing countries all under some form of UN sanctions – shamefully moved to try and block it.
Brian Wood, Head of Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International, speaking from the UN conference in New York, said: 
“This is a historic moment. After long years of campaigning, most states have agreed to adopt a global Treaty that can prevent the flow of arms into countries where they will be used to commit atrocities.
“Despite Iran, North Korea and Syria’s deeply cynical attempt to stymie it, the overwhelming majority of the world’s nations have shown resounding support for this lifesaving Treaty with human rights protection at its core.”
Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, added:
“This vote marks the culmination of 20 years of hard work from Amnesty members. It is a milestone.
“Back in 1993 the idea of there being a set of global rules to govern arms sales seemed like a utopian ideal. Over the past two decades, we have seen this treaty crafted into a reality - a treaty that regulates the illegal flow of arms to warlords, tyrants and despots around the world, a treaty that could save the lives of millions and help prevent conflicts like those in Mali or Sri Lanka ever happening again.
“It took a huge effort from millions of ordinary people – Amnesty supporters – to make the dream of an Arms Treaty become a reality.
“In the UK, Amnesty members repeatedly called on parliamentarians to urge the UK government to deliver an effective and worthwhile treaty with human rights at its heart. 
“It is a message that has been taken on board by successive governments here. They have worked tirelessly for the best part of a decade to deliver a bullet-proof Treaty. 
“And over the last two weeks of talks in New York, the UK’s Coalition Government heard our calls, stepped up to the plate and championed the need for a life-saving Treaty.”
Brian Wood added:
“As in all such negotiations, we did not get everything that we wanted, so for example ammunition is not fully included in all the treaty provisions, but since this Treaty can be amended and has many strong rules it provides a firm foundation on which to build an international system to curb the flow of arms to those who would commit atrocities, both in war and in peace time.”
The Treaty will be opened for signatures and ratification on 3 June 2013 at the UN General Assembly and will enter into force shortly after it has been ratified by 50 states.
Background information:
The Treaty was adopted after more than six years of UN deliberations – a process that began in December 2006 when the General Assembly agreed to consult all states on the feasibility, scope and parameters of a treaty to regulate the international transfer of conventional arms. 
A record number of states responded to the UN Secretary General, almost all of them positively. Human rights and humanitarian law were put at the top of the list of criteria.
The scope in the adopted Treaty covers major categories of conventional arms, including small arms and light weapons which proliferate in countries with low-level conflicts, armed violence and a massive number of civilian casualties.
The Treaty also obligates all governments to assess the risk of transferring arms, ammunition or components to another country where they could be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. Where that overriding risk is real and cannot be mitigated, states have agreed the transfer will not go forward.
Amnesty International believes that in the next four years, the annual trade in conventional weapons, ammunition and components and parts will exceed £80 billion. 

View latest press releases