Following the Rules: Seeking Common Standards for Arms Trade Treaty

July 11, 2011

By Leon Ratz, Amnesty’s thematic specialist on the Arms Trade Treaty

Can you follow the rules if you don’t know what they are?

Late this afternoon, we concluded the first day of UN talks on how an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) would actually be implemented. As I leave the room I can see that there are two camps forming around the issue of implementation.

One camp supports the idea that States should “take all necessary measures” to implement the treaty. They like it because no measures are actually specified and therefore it is impossible to hold them to account.

So it’s like a state insisting that it will follow the rules without saying what the rules will be.

Amnesty International however supports the logic of the other camp which is calling for States to agree to specific national licensing or authorization standards. This means there are clear, common standards for all states to implement the Arms Trade Treaty in their respective national jurisdictions.

If States are left to interpret separately what “all necessary measures” actually means why should we believe that those who are authorizing irresponsible transfers of arms will change their behavior despite ratifying the ATT? As the sign that welcomes you into Brooklyn says—“Fuhgeddaboudit!”

On the other hand, if there are specific implementation requirements embedded into the Treaty text, we have a real chance of stopping irresponsible and illegal arms transfers.

I’ll give you an example of something simple like an “end-user assurance.” This is a guarantee given by both the exporting and importing state on why and who will use the arms being exported and imported. At the moment it is possible to find end user certificates that have no expiry date or that are not authenticated or verified. If minimum standards for something so basic like this are not specified in the Arms Trade Treaty then it will result in States insisting that they have taken “all necessary measures” while carrying on with business as usual.

If this Treaty is really about the regulation of international arms trade and transfers, (as the US emphasized today), States need to get serious about establishing “the highest possible common international standards” for exports, imports and transfers of conventional weapons. This is the mandate for the negotiations.

The representative from Ghana said it best today, “The world is waiting for an Arms Trade Treaty that is robust enough to save lives.” The Treaty will simply not be robust without proper implementation mechanisms.

Read more about Amnesty’s recommendations on implementation (PDF link), and follow our tweets from the Arms Trade Treaty conference by following @amnestyonline.