USA shows strong support for new global Arms Trade Treaty

News
May 16, 2013

USA shows strong support for new global Arms Trade Treaty

A senior US diplomat has said his government will be quick to sign the new Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), a move Amnesty International said raises hopes for swift implementation of the potentially lifesaving treaty around the world.

Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman said on Wednesday that the USA would sign the ATT “in the very near future”. Many other governments are also indicating that they will soon sign the treaty which will be open for signature and ratification at the United Nations in New York on 3 June 2013. At least 50 states must ratify the treaty into their national law before it can come into force.

The USA – by far the world’s largest arms producer and exporter – is a key state to support the ATT. Despite playing an obstructive role earlier in the treaty process, US support during the final round of UN negotiations in March this year was an important factor in finally achieving the overwhelming vote of 155 states to adopt the treaty in the General Assembly on 2 April.

“Amnesty International commends the US government commitment to sign the Arms Trade Treaty in the very near future and thus avoid any action that would undermine the treaty. We will continue pushing leaders in the USA and elsewhere in the world to ratify and implement the treaty as soon as possible in order to ensure that arms transfers no longer fuel atrocities and abuse,” said Frank Jannuzi, Deputy Executive Director of Amnesty International USA. 

A group of US Senators – emboldened by the country’s powerful gun lobby – have shown resistance to future US ratification of the ATT. But Amnesty International has pointed out that their concerns are rooted in baseless assertions about the treaty’s reach into domestic gun control regulations.

In his remarks, Countryman once again allayed fears about the ATT’s impact on domestic gun legislation, reiterating that it poses no danger to US constitutional rights. By signing, he said the USA would set an important example and encourage broad adoption and enforcement of the ATT worldwide.

“Our hope is that all the major arms-producing states will eventually support the ATT. In the interim we will encourage as many countries as possible to sign the treaty on 3 June or soon afterwards, and begin taking the necessary measures to ensure its implementation nationally,” said Brian Wood, head of arms control at Amnesty International.

Amnesty International has campaigned since the early 1990s to achieve robust, legally binding global rules on international arms transfers to stem the flow of conventional arms and munitions that fuel atrocities and abuse.

Despite some shortcomings in the treaty text, the organization believes that the ATT represents a significant step towards this goal and provides a firm foundation to better regulate the international flow of weapons.

“While parts of the treaty – such as the definitions of scope and the risk of misuse of arms – could be stronger, the ATT has the real potential to reduce violations of human rights and humanitarian law, particularly if states implement its Articles 6 and 7 in good faith and in line with the object and purpose of the treaty”, said Wood.

Article 6.3 is an important step forward, as it prohibits arms transfers by a state if it has knowledge that those transfers would be used to commit genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Article 7 will require a State Party to not authorize an arms export where there is an overriding risk that the export could be used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of international human rights or humanitarian law – including summary and arbitrary killings, torture, and enforced disappearances.

The treaty also obliges states to assess the risk of arms exports being used to commit or facilitate gender-based violence or serious acts of violence against women and children.

Iran, Syria and North Korea – all of which have been under some form of international arms embargo – were the only three countries to vote against adoption of the ATT when it went to a vote at the UN General Assembly on 2 April. The USA was among the 155 countries to support its adoption.