Adoption of Human Rights Protection for Arms Sales Worldwide Caps 20-Year Campaign Initiated by Amnesty International
(NEW YORK) – Governments at the United Nations adopted a historic Arms Trade Treaty almost unanimously today that will prevent states from sending conventional weapons to countries where they know they will be used to commit human rights atrocities. Amnesty International, which initiated the idea and campaigned for 20 years to win victory, hailed passage as a human rights triumph for the "voices of reason over skeptics and dealers in death."
The victory was a defeat for the main opponent of the treaty in the United States, the National Rifle Association, which initiated a campaign of distortions to try to block the U.S. government's support.
In the U.N. General Assembly, 154 states voted to adopt the treaty just days after Iran, North Korea and Syria – three countries under U.N. sanctions for human rights abuses – staged a cynical move to try and block it.
The vote caps a 20-year effort initiated by Amnesty International in the 1990s.
"Today's victory shows that ordinary people who care about protecting human rights can fight back to stop the gun lobby dead in its tracks, helping to save countless lives," said Frank Jannuzi, deputy executive director, Amnesty International USA. "The voices of reason triumphed over skeptics, treaty opponents and dealers in death to establish a revolutionary treaty that constitutes a major step toward keeping assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons out of the hands of despots and warlords who use them to kill and maim civilians, recruit child soldiers and commit other serious abuses. Iran, Syria and North Korea blocked consensus at the U.N., while the NRA cynically-and ultimately unsuccessfully-tried to erode the U.S. government's support through a campaign of lies about the treaty. But in the end, the global call for responsibility in the arms trade won out.
"Amnesty International played a leading role in initiating the campaign for this treaty nearly 20 years ago and has fought tirelessly to stop weapons from being sent to countries where we know they are used to commit human rights atrocities. This has been a life-saving struggle that never could have been achieved without the support of millions of human rights activists who stepped forward to demand change. We call on President Obama to be first in line on June 3 when the treaty opens for signature."
Brian Wood, head of arms control and human rights for Amnesty International who led the organization's effort, said, "The world has been waiting a long time for this historic treaty. Despite Iran, North Korea and Syria's deeply cynical attempt to stymie it, the overwhelming majority of the world’s nations have shown resounding support for this lifesaving treaty with human rights protection at its core."
The treaty obligates all governments to assess the risk of transferring arms, ammunition or components to another country where they could be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. Where that overriding risk is real and cannot be mitigated, states have agreed the transfer will not go forward.
The treaty was adopted after more than six years of U.N. deliberations – a process that began in December 2006 when the General Assembly agreed to consult all states on the feasibility, scope and parameters of a treaty to regulate the international transfer of conventional arms.
A record number of states responded to the U.N. Secretary General, almost all of them positively. Human rights and humanitarian law were put at the top of the list of criteria.
The scope in the adopted treaty covers major categories of conventional arms, including small arms and light weapons which proliferate in countries with low-level conflicts, armed violence and a massive number of civilian casualties.
The treaty will be opened for signatures and ratification on June 3 at the General Assembly and will enter into force shortly after it has been ratified by 50 states.
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.