(NEW YORK) – As 62 countries formally signed the landmark Arms Trade Treaty today, Amnesty International challenged governments to rapidly and rigorously implement the lifesaving document. In the United States – the largest arms dealer in the world – the organization welcomed Secretary of State John Kerry’s positive statement on the treaty and urged the Obama administration to sign the document as soon as possible.
“Ideally, the U.S. government would have been among the first signers today,” said Frank Jannuzi, deputy executive director, Amnesty USA. “We are encouraged by Secretary Kerry’s strong statement of support for the treaty and hopeful that the U.S. government will sign the treaty as quickly as possible in the near future. The Obama administration played a critical role in pushing the treaty to adoption on April 2 and that support is needed for the treaty to have the impact to save lives worldwide.”
The treaty would prohibit states from transferring conventional weapons to countries when they know those weapons would be used to commit or facilitate genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes, such as to Syria.
“The ink is barely dry on today’s signatures but the commitment of the world’s arms exporting powers for the ATT is already coming under question by the worsening situation in Syria,” said Brian Wood, head of Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International. “Declarations of support for the ATT would ring hollow if decisions to send arms to Syria and elsewhere are inconsistent with the principles of the treaty. This is a critical test for governments to demonstrate they are serious about implementing a treaty that puts human beings and their security first.”
Under the treaty, it’s clear that the Syrian government cannot receive arms given its record of deliberately targeting civilians. There is currently a substantial risk that arms supplied to Syrian opposition groups would be used to commit or facilitate more human rights abuses. While this considerable risk remains no arms should be supplied.
The concept of a global treaty to stop the flow of weapons to dictators, war lords, and gangs was first raised 20 years ago by Amnesty International campaigners and a handful of partners. The idea was initially met with skepticism, but as years went by and campaigners drew support from luminaries like Desmond Tutu and Oscar Arias, the idea gained wider acceptance. It was finally adopted at the U.N. General Assembly on April 2, by a vote of 156-3, with 22 abstentions.
Roughly half a million people are killed every year with firearms – on battlefields and also by repressive regimes and criminal gangs. In addition, millions of civilians die trapped without food, water, or medical treatment in conflict zones fuelled by the illicit arms trade.
The treaty asserts the principle – already enshrined in U.S. law – that governments have an obligation to weigh whether human rights will be violated before they ship weapons to another country.
Countries from every region in the world signed the historic treaty at the first opportunity– including France and the U.K. with Germany expected to sign later today – three of the world’s major arms exporters.
The signing ceremony took place just two months after the U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to adopt the treaty text, the only three votes against being from Iran, North Korea, and Syria. The ATT now requires ratification by fifty states before it enters into force.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists, and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth, and dignity are denied.