It's Official! United States Signs U.N. Arms Trade Treaty

September 25, 2013

Secretary of State John Kerry signing the Arms Trade Treaty (Photo Credit: Adotei Akwei).
Secretary of State John Kerry signing the Arms Trade Treaty (Photo Credit: Adotei Akwei).

By Nate Smith, Amnesty International USA MSP Thematic Specialist

In an important step forward for human rights and international law, Secretary of State John Kerry signed the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) on behalf of the United States earlier today.

Coming in the midst of concerns about the supply of weapons to Syrian government and Syrian rebels, Kerry’s signature signals the intention of the U.S., the world’s largest arms exporter, to abide by the terms of the treaty.

The treaty unequivocally bans arms transfers that are in violation of a U.N. arms embargo or that exporters have reason to know will be used to commit genocide and other grievous war crimes. Under the treaty, all exporting states have a new obligation to assess the risk that the weapons they provide will be used in human rights abuse and to halt such transfers where that risk is overwhelming.

532831_10150853540241363_935881404_nThe U.S. commitment is a critical step forward for the ATT process, ensuring that the majority of future arms exports will be ATT-compliant. Added to the signatures of some 86 other countries, the U.S. signature carries weight proportionate to its outsize role in the arms trade.

Amnesty International has advocated for an ATT with strong human rights protections for upwards of two decades. Treaties help shape international expectations and behavior, and this treaty is a major step toward enshrining human rights concerns explicitly in international law.

While Amnesty International USA will continue to advocate strongly for U.S. ratification, the signature and its attendant commitment confers increased legitimacy on the ATT. Crucially, it also increases international political pressure on other nations, such as Russia and China, to add their signatures and declare their intentions.

Now we all need to recommit ourselves to fighting for the effective implementation of the treaty and to making sure that the treaty’s words do not just stay on paper.