President Obama Must Make U.S. Among First Signers of Historic U.N. Arms Trade Treaty on June 3

Press Release
May 31, 2013

President Obama Must Make U.S. Among First Signers of Historic U.N. Arms Trade Treaty on June 3

‘Victory for Humanity’ to Stop County-to-Country Arms Shipments, Initiated Two Decades Ago by Amnesty Campaigners

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150, @AIUSAmedia

(NEW YORK) – Amnesty International USA called on President Obama today to make the United States among the first countries to sign the historic U.N. Arms Trade Treaty, when it opens for signature and ratification on Monday, June 3.

Adopted with overwhelming support by the United Nations on April 2, the treaty is a once-in-a-generation chance to block small arms, conventional weapons, and ammunition from reaching the hands of human rights abusers. The treaty is the first effort to reduce the death and suffering caused by the enormous unregulated global trade in conventional weapons by linking sales to the human rights records of the buyers and the risk of weapons being used to commit human rights atrocities.

“While President Obama is trying to curb armed violence in the United States he also has an opportunity by signing the Arms Trade Treaty to stop the most heinous human rights atrocities worldwide committed at the barrel of a gun,” said Adotei Akwei, Amnesty International USA’s managing director for government relations.

“Every day, children are kidnapped and forced to become soldiers, women are raped in conflict zones and civilians are tortured, wounded, and killed by guns. If we can stop the irresponsible trade of weapons on the global stage by preventing sales where we know they will do harm, we can save hundreds of thousands of lives every year.”

“President Obama can start to establish his legacy by stopping armed violence by signing the Arms Trade Treaty,” said Akwei. “The lives of millions of people are at stake.”

Roughly half a million people are killed every year by firearms – on battlefields and also by repressive regimes and criminal gangs. In addition, many millions of civilians die trapped without food, water, or medical treatment in conflict zones fuelled by illicit arms transfers.

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.

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 greeted 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.

“The Arms Trade Treaty is a victory for humanity,” said Akwei. “It has the power to stop the deluge of illicit arms – the real ‘weapons of mass destruction.’”

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.