The atrocities taking place in Syria are once again in the spotlight at the UN on Monday as Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay updates the General Assembly on the worsening situation in the country.
But elsewhere in the sprawling UN complex in New York this isn’t just about the tragedy in Syria – it’s part of a much bigger story – the global trade in weapons, munitions and related equipment moves towards proper regulation, the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).
Serious human rights abuses have been committed around the world using a wide range of arms. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, injured, raped and forced to flee from their homes as a result.
Amnesty International wants the talks to agree on a global ATT that includes measures preventing arms transfers where there is a substantial risk they will be used to commit serious human rights violations. But such an outcome is under threat as several governments look to limit the extent of the treaty.
“The atrocities being committed in Syria underline the need for a robust Arms Trade Treaty that protects human rights,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
“How many more people need to die, be injured, or forced to flee before governments act to effectively regulate the irresponsible global arms trade? These talks are an historic opportunity, one too important for governments to play politics with."
After the weeklong discussions at the UN, the final negotiations on the Arms Trade Treaty will take place in July. Governments including China, Egypt, Russia, and the USA are resisting attempts for strong human rights safeguards to be included.
For more than a decade, Amnesty International has been at the forefront of the campaign for an effective Arms Trade Treaty. A delegation is in New York to lobby government officials on the need for an agreement that protects human rights.
A “Golden Rule” is central to what Amnesty International is calling for in any agreement. This rule would require all states to conduct rigorous case-by-case risk assessments of all proposed international arms transfers, to prevent those transfers from going ahead where there is a substantial risk they would be used to commit serious human rights violations.
Amnesty International has recently highlighted how the USA, Russia and European countries supplied large quantities of weapons to repressive governments in the Middle East and North Africa before last year’s uprisings, despite having evidence of that they could be used to commit serious human rights violations.
Only last week, Amnesty International highlighted how Russian and Chinese arms supplies to Sudan were fuelling the ongoing violence in Darfur.
Amnesty International was among civil society organizations that launched the Control Arms campaign in 2003. Three years later, 153 governments finally voted at the UN to develop a global Arms Trade Treaty. The negotiations are now entering the final phase.
“When the Control Arms campaign was launched, we were told an agreement was a distant dream, but it was impossible to ignore the voices of millions of people around the world,” said Salil Shetty.
“This global voice is even stronger today. Governments need to listen to the people and act on this opportunity to agree a treaty that respects the rule of law based on human rights.”
“If they fail to do so, how many more times will we have to bear witness to atrocities, like those in Syria and Darfur in which thousands of people are killed and injured by weapons from a reckless arms trade.”