The global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) enters into force on 24 December, marking a breakthrough for human rights after more than two decades of campaigning by Amnesty International and its NGO partners around the world.
For the first time, there is a treaty that explicitly embeds the human rights implications of each arms sale into every transfer.
Amnesty and its supporters have lobbied and campaigned relentlessly for an ATT since the mid-1990s. As the first-ever legally binding treaty of its kind, it will block the flow of arms to governments that would use them to commit atrocities.
The ATT includes a number of robust rules to stop the transfer of arms to countries when it is known they would be used for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes or serious violations of human rights law. Governments that are part of the ATT will now have to carry out objective assessments to avoid an overriding risk that an arms export would be used to commit those atrocities.
Five of the top 10 arms exporters – the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain – are among the 60 states around the world to have already ratified the ATT. With the law now in place, Amnesty is urging the UK to stand by this legally binding commitment to stop sending weapons to places where they are being used to fuel atrocities.
Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:
“The UK has long been a frontrunner in championing the Arms Trade Treaty. Now though, it’s time for its actions to mirror its promises. The UK must stop granting arms export licences to countries where weapons are likely to be used to commit abuses. For example, last year the UK sold £6.3m of arms to Israel. We know that historically equipment supplied by the UK has been used by the Israeli military to commit human rights violations in Gaza. With the Arms Trade Treaty in place, dubious deals like these must be consigned to history.”
The USA, the world’s largest arms producer and exporter, is among the 70 states that have signed but not yet ratified the treaty. Other major arms producers including China, Canada and Russia have resisted signing or ratifying the treaty.
At least half a million people die every year on average and millions more are maimed, sexually assaulted and forced to flee from their homes as a result of the poorly regulated global trade in weapons and munitions. The arms trade is shrouded in secrecy, but the recorded value of international transfers is approaching £64 ($100) billion annually.
Amnesty International’s Secretary General Salil Shetty said:
“This achievement is a truly historic breakthrough. It shows what is possible when human rights campaigners dig in for the long haul and work relentlessly to turn a good idea into a lifesaving reality around the world.
“The work does not stop here. We will not rest on our laurels. While the Arms Trade Treaty sets key ground rules for the global arms trade, it is not a panacea. It will require even more widespread support and pressure to ensure states strictly adhere to its principles.
“There must be a clear commitment by states that this will not be business as usual. People around the world have suffered enough because of the reckless arms trade. Governments owe it to them to back up their commitment with action.”
Since the early 1990s Amnesty has campaigned with NGO partners to achieve robust, legally binding, global rules on international arms transfers to stem the flow of conventional arms and munitions that fuel atrocities and human rights abuses. More than a million people around the world joined the campaign, calling on governments to agree a strong ATT.
On 2 April 2013, a total of 155 states voted in the UN General Assembly to adopt the ATT. Before it could enter into force, 50 states had to ratify the treaty, bringing it into their national law. This happened on 25 September 2014 – a very swift turnaround for a UN treaty.
Amnesty has continued to document and expose irresponsible arms transfers that facilitate grave abuses.
This includes: planned shipments of arms from the USA to Iraq, where Amnesty has documented serious human rights abuses being committed in recent months; a massive Chinese shipment of arms and ammunition to conflict-ridden South Sudan, where Amnesty International has documented war crimes and crimes against humanity; along with a range of countries supplying small arms and light weapons to Honduras, a country which according to UN statistics, has the highest homicide rate in the world.