The global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), created to rein in the poorly regulated international arms transfers that fuel war crimes and serious human rights abuses, will face its first major test in Mexico this week, Amnesty International said today.
The ATT’s first Conference of States Parties, taking place in Cancún from August 24-27, will be attended by dozens of states, including some that have neither signed nor ratified the treaty since its adoption in 2013. Amnesty International, which campaigned alongside NGO partners for more than two decades to make the ATT a reality, will also attend the meeting.
“Cancún marks the first major test for the Arms Trade Treaty, and states will have an important opportunity to make history by following through on the treaty’s lifesaving goals,” said Marek Marczynski, Head of Military, Security and Police at Amnesty International.
“We’ll be making sure the talks don’t get bogged down in bureaucracy or lose sight of the ATT’s guiding principles – effective and transparent regulation to end the human suffering caused by irresponsible flows of conventional arms.”
Three major areas Amnesty International will be pressing for are:
- transparency in all aspects of the ATT, including comprehensive state reporting on the scale and range of their arms imports and exports;
- making sure NGOs are allowed to participate meaningfully in all treaty meetings and processes; and
- putting in place mechanisms to ensure that states honor their treaty obligations by preventing transfers of weapons to anyone who risks using them for serious violations of international law, including war crimes and other serious human rights violations.
Transparency is one of the ATT’s main objectives since the global trade in arms has, up until now, been shrouded in secrecy. It is also a key means of demonstrating that States are implementing the treaty, and will help to assess how the ATT is being applied in practice.
During the run-up to the Mexico conference, discussions in preparatory meetings focused on the ongoing participation of civil society groups, as well as how much information on arms imports and exports states should report and make publicly available.
Some states are trying to curb the role of civil society by significantly restricting their participation in future ATT conferences and making an increasing number of key decisions behind closed doors in secret sessions.
Amnesty International is also alarmed that states have attempted to strip their ATT reporting requirements down to a bare minimum. This means that they may only be obliged to report on the financial value of transfers annually, without providing crucial details about the size of the shipment, the number of items and an accounting of each category of small arms and light weapons included.
Details about where the weapons would end up and for what purpose would also be secret, which is crucial information aimed at preventing diversion of arms into illicit markets and to unauthorized end users.
“Shutting civil society out of some of the most important discussions and not making annual reports on arms imports and exports public will mean ‘business as usual’ – arms transfers will remain shrouded in secrecy, undermining the purpose of the ATT. This must not be allowed to happen,” said Marczynski.
“A great deal has been achieved through the work of civil society alongside states to win legally binding, global rules on international arms transfers. We look forward to continue playing a constructive role as we move into the implementation phase. States must adopt comprehensive and transparent reporting requirements that give a full picture of the global trade in arms.”
Since the early 1990s Amnesty International has campaigned with NGO partners to achieve robust, legally binding, global rules on international arms transfers to stem the flow of conventional arms and munitions that fuel atrocities and human rights abuses. More than a million people around the world joined the campaign.
On April 2, 2013, a total of 155 states voted in the UN General Assembly to adopt the Arms Trade Treaty. It entered into force as binding international law on December 24, 2014, for all states parties.
Five of the top 10 arms exporters – France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK – are among the 72 states around the world to have already ratified the ATT. The U.S., by far the largest arms producer and exporter, is among 58 other countries that have signed but not yet ratified the treaty. Other major arms producers like China, Canada and Russia have resisted signing or ratifying the treaty.
The ATT includes a number of robust rules to stop the flow of arms to countries when it is known the arms would be used for genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. Governments that are part of the ATT will now have to carry out objective assessments to avoid an overriding risk that an arms export would be used to commit serious violations of international human rights law or international humanitarian law.
International arms transfers are shrouded in secrecy but the value of the global trade is estimated to be approaching US$100 billion annually.
Amnesty International has continued to document and expose irresponsible arms transfers that contribute to or facilitate grave abuses.
This includes weapons and ammunition predominantly manufactured in the Russian Federation/former Soviet Union, Belarus, Ukraine and China transferred to Sudan, and subsequently used by all sides of the conflicts in South Kordofan and Darfur as well as neighbouring South Sudan. In South Kordofan, Amnesty International has recently documented a series of indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas, including hospitals and schools, of a nature and scale that constitute war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity.
In Iraq and Syria, rampant arms proliferation has seen arms transfers being diverted to the armed group calling itself Islamic State and other armed groups. These arms are being used to facilitate summary killings, enforced disappearances, rape and torture, amongst other serious human rights violations. The spread of arms and ammunition – mostly Soviet/Warsaw Pact-era small arms and light weapons, armored vehicles and artillery dating back to the 1970s and 80s – has caused untold impact on the civilian population, creating large flows of internally displaced peoples and refugees, impeding access to humanitarian assistance and exacerbating gender-based violence.
To see the list of states that have signed and ratified the ATT, please visit:http://www.un.org/disarmament/ATT/