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UN: Zero tolerance for states who flout Arms Trade Treaty obligations

·         States Parties still engaging in unscrupulous arms transfers, putting lives and human rights at risk

·         More than a quarter of States Parties are yet to meet the treaty’s reporting obligations

·         Some States Parties opting to reject public scrutiny of their arms transfers

States must ensure the global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) lives up to its promise to save lives and protect human rights from the devastating effects of the international arms trade by taking concrete, transparent steps towards more effective implementation, Amnesty International said today.

The ATT’s second Conference of States Parties (CSP) takes place in Geneva from 22-26 August, and will be attended by hundreds of delegates from more than 100 countries. It is a key moment for States Parties to hold each other to account for the treaty’s implementation and to discuss ways of strengthening it.

“The ATT has the potential to save millions of lives, which makes it especially alarming when states who have signed or even ratified the treaty seem to think they can continue to supply arms to forces known to commit and facilitate war crimes, and issue export licenses even where there is an overriding risk the weapons will contribute to serious human rights violations,” said Brian Wood, Head of Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International.

“There must be zero tolerance for states who think they can just pay lip service to the ATT. The need for more effective implementation is painfully obvious: from Yemen to Syria to South Sudan, every day children are being killed and horribly maimed by bombs, civilians are threatened and detained at gunpoint, and armed groups are committing abuses with weapons produced by countries who are bound by the treaty.”

Unscrupulous arms transfers

The USA, which has signed the ATT, and EU member states who have ratified it, including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France and Italy, have continued to lavish small arms, light weapons, ammunition, armoured vehicles and policing equipment on Egypt, despite a brutal crackdown on dissent by the authorities which has resulted in the unlawful killing of hundreds of protesters, thousands of arrests and reports of torture by detainees since 2013.

In 2014, for example, France issued export licences that again included sophisticated Sherpa armoured vehicles used by security forces to kill hundreds of protesters at the Rabaa al-Adawiya sit in just a year earlier.

Arms procured from ATT signatories have also continued to fuel bloody civil wars. For example, in 2014 Ukraine approved the export of 830 light machine guns and 62 heavy machine guns to South Sudan. Six months after signing the ATT, Ukrainian authorities issued an export licence on 19 March 2015 to supply South Sudan with an undisclosed number of operational Mi-24 attack helicopters. Three of those attack helicopters are currently in service with South Sudan government forces, and they are reportedly awaiting the delivery of another.

“By signing the ATT the government of Ukraine agreed not to take any action that would undermine the treaty’s object and purpose, which includes ensuring that arms are never transferred if there is knowledge that they could be used for war crimes, including attacks directed against civilians. It is impossible to square Ukraine’s arms export decisions with what is happening in South Sudan, where civilians sheltering in hospitals and places of worship and living under the protection of the UN peacekeeping mission have been attacked and killed,” said Brian Wood.

“It is just as difficult to imagine how EU States Parties to the ATT could have looked at the violent state repression in Egypt and concluded that transferring arms to the internal security forces there complies with the rules of the treaty.”

Gaps in reporting

The ongoing failure of some States Parties to report on the details of their arms imports and exports is a breach of the treaty. The ATT requires two specific reports from States Parties: an initial report on measures undertaken to implement the treaty, including national laws, regulations and other administrative measures, which was due by December 2015; and also an annual report on authorized or actual arms exports, which was due by 31 May 2016.

Amnesty International is alarmed that as of 17 August, 27% of States Parties whose reports were due had failed to submit the initial implementation report and 27% had yet to submit their annual report on arms imports and exports. 

Currently, states that have joined the ATT are not explicitly required to make their reports publicly available, and the provisional reporting template for arms imports and exports contains a tick-box where they can simply indicate whether or not they would like to do so. Moldova and Slovakia chose to keep their annual report on arms imports and exports confidential.

“That governments can still choose to hide details of any or all of their arms exports and imports will make it virtually impossible for parliaments, media and civil society to assess whether key human rights objectives are being met,” said Brian Wood.

“All States Parties must submit their required reports as soon as possible, make the reports public on the internet, and explain the reasons for any delays.”

End-use guarantees by importers

Amnesty International is calling for a crucial requirement for arms exporters not to approve an arms transfer until importing states provide legally binding guarantees ensuring the intended end users of those arms will respect human rights and the rule of law.

Currently the human rights impact of arms transfers is not being properly assessed in each case, as the ATT intended. For example, since March 2015 the US State Department has approved possible military sales of equipment and logistical support to Saudi Arabia worth over $24 billion, and between March 2015 and June 2016 the UK approved the export of £3.4 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia. These approvals were given when the Saudi Arabia-led coalition was carrying out continuous, indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes and ground attacks on civilians in Yemen, some of which may amount to war crimes.

“To save lives, respect for international human rights and humanitarian law must be a condition of end-use guarantees,” said Brian Wood.

“Watertight end-use guarantees would also mitigate the risk of arms being transferred or diverted to unauthorized groups or for unintended and illegal end uses that may breach the ATT.”