Military Security and Police Transfers (MSP)

May 19, 2017

Weapons and ammunition are produced and sold in shockingly large quantities, and reckless arms trading devastates lives. Inside and beyond areas of armed conflict and political instability, civilians typically bear the brunt of modern conflict. Weapons are also a tool for state repression. In too many countries around the world, security forces use firearms against unarmed peaceful protestors, or to commit other human rights abuses.

In accord with International law, Amnesty International opposes the deployment and transfer of weapons that risk being used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law, including possible war crimes.


Human Rights and Arms Concerns

Amnesty International advocates for the inclusion of a human rights framework in policies and we work to prevent arms transfers likely to jeopardize human rights. 

Tear Gas

It is widely believed that tear gas is a safe method of dispersing participants of violent protests. Today, it is a part of many security forces’ arsenal of less-lethal equipment – weapons that are alternatives to firearms. These weapons are called less-lethal rather than non-lethal as, although they are not designed to kill, there is still the possibility of lethal effect.  The availability of tear gas can mean police avoid having to resort to the use of more harmful weapons. But in practice police forces use tear gas in ways that it was never intended to be used, often in large quantities against largely peaceful protesters or by firing projectiles directly at people.  

Its widespread abuse raises questions about the lack of regulations of appropriate use or standardised formulations of toxicity, the questionable decision-making of those in control of police operations, and the lack of training of many police officers deploying it. Despite serious human rights concerns and guidance issued recently by the United Nations, the design, manufacture of, and trade in tear gas remain poorly regulated. In this 2020 report Tear Gas: An Investigation Amnesty examines why tear gas use is harmful and circumstances that make it particularly dangerous. 

Lethal autonomous weapons and landmines

Lethal Autonomous Weapons have dangerous implications on human rights.  Amnesty International advocates for a total ban on the development, production and use of fully autonomous weapon systems.  Their use undermines fundamental human rights and creates accountability gaps since LAWs are not capable of making informed determinations about the use of force. Our work on lethal autonomous weapons ranges from promoting the Mine Ban treaty and bans on indiscriminate weapons like landmines to promoting the responsible use of artificial intelligence in weapons development. 

saudi arabia and yemen conflict

The conflict in Yemen between Houthi forces and a Saudi-backed coalition of regional powers has involved grave human rights violations by both sides – however, it is the Saudi-led side that is supplied, armed and trained but by the United States. AI’s position on this is clear: no arms for atrocities. The U.S. and other arms-supplying countries must stop selling arms and providing training to parties to this conflict, and instead lean on all parties to end the targeting of civilians and critical civilian infrastructure. 

arms transfers regulations

Amnesty International believes that government and commercial transfers of military, security, and police equipment should not be permitted when such transfers have a potential to violate human rights. Transfers, such as weapons and equipment that are illegal under international law, are used for the purposes of torture, or to a particular country or military group that has been identified in violating human rights, that violate human rights is a key purpose of Amnesty International’s work. Amnesty International’s MSP work seeks to prevent such transfers through supporting the development of international and domestic laws that seek restrictions on transfers that violate human rights and by applying pressure to ensure transparency and accountability for violations of human rights. Examples of Amnesty International’s MSP work are below:

Domestic Regulations

Statement for House Judiciary Committee Hearing on Protecting America From Assault Weapons

Limiting Military Weapons to Local Law Enforcement

International Regulations

Illegal Shipment of supplies from North Korea to Syria

Chemical Weapons Investigation in Sudan


msp action network

The “MSP Action Network” is a small group of arms trade experts and Amnesty activists who are passionate about upholding human rights in domestic and foreign arms export regimes, licensing procedures, legislation, and corporate behavior. The MSP co-group relies on the action network to mobilize support for Amnesty International’s positions on salient arms trade issues. 

The types of activities the action network might be asked to help with include but are not limited to: 

  • Calling members of Congress to offer Amnesty International’s position on a bill 
  • Write letters to members of Congress or officials in the State Department, Department of Defense or Department of Commerce;
  • Provide information on critical issues in their areas of expertise when the opportunity arises;
  • Amplify the MSP messaging on various social media platforms.

If you are interested please sign up here. Members of the action network are volunteers but their contributions are essential to our mission defending human rights. 

Examples of Amnesty’s recent work on military and security transfers:

hong kong police abuses

In March of 2019, Hong Kong’s government announced plans for legislation that would enable criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China. This resulted in mass protests in Hong Kong, during which the Hong Kong police used water cannon, tear gas and pepper spray, and in some instances, guns firing bean bags, rubber bullets and live rounds to disperse the largely peaceful protests. As of March 5, 2020, police have fired 19 live ammunition rounds, 1,863 sponge bullets, 1,999 beanbag rounds, 10,010 rubber bullets, and 15,972 tear gas canisters.  

Amnesty International pointed up the dangers associated with water cannons, tear gas and other less lethal weapons, and urged the Hong Kong police to adopt less confrontational approaches to demonstrators. AIUSA lobbied the US government to ensure review of crowd control equipment exports to Hong Kong as a measure to prevent human rights abuses. On November, 27, 2019 the US government signed s.2710, the PROTECT Hong Kong Act. Amnesty supported this bill publicly noting that it will help send a message to the world that people come before profit.

promote strong human rights protections in the arms trade treaty

After more than 20 years of campaigning by Amnesty International and partner NGOs, the Arms Trade Treaty became international law on 24 December 2014. Any state that is a party  to the treaty must obey strict rules on international arms transfers. The Treaty was designed to stop deadly weapons from getting into the hands of people who will use them to commit human rights violations, including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.More than 100 countries have joined the Treaty, and there are over 30 more who have signed the treaty which is the first step towards becoming a party to the ATT. The Treaty can help save lives, but only if it is properly implemented, and if states are held accountable when they breach it. Under the Trump administration, the United States “unsigned” the ATT. Amnesty International advocates for the US to join other signatories in backing the treaty. 

end landmine production, sale and use

Amnesty International joined a coalition of non-governmental organizations and human rights organizations to urge the Trump administration to reverse its recently implemented policy lifting prohibitions against the use of landmines. Landmines are inherently indiscriminate weapons that maim and kill long after conflicts end. Over the past twenty years, the world has rejected antipersonnel landmines through the Mine Ban Treaty – to which 164 countries are states parties, including every other member of NATO. While still not a signatory, the U.S. has functionally adhered to several provisions of the Mine Ban Treaty – except those that would prohibit the U.S. from ordering the use of landmines on the Korean peninsula. This new landmine policy starkly sets the U.S. apart from its allies and has drawn international condemnation, including from the European Union. Read our coalitions statement on the Trump Administration’s Landmine Policy

extend arms embargo on south sudan

After more than six years of internal armed conflict, South Sudan’s government and opposition party created a revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity.  This was an important step to end a conflict characterized by mass atrocities. Amnesty has repeatedly documented how all parties to the conflict carried out abuses, including war crimes. They tortured and killed civilians, abducted and raped women and men, destroyed and looted civilian property, and deliberately attacked humanitarian workers. Tens of thousands were killed or seriously injured; millions were displaced in Africa’s largest refugee crisis, and the violence caused food insecurity and loss of livelihood on a massive scale.On 13 July 2018 the UN Security Council took measures to restrict the violence by, amongst other sanctions, imposing a comprehensive arms embargo on the territory of South Sudan. With this, a long-time Amnesty International advocacy objective was achieved.  However, extensive research performed by Amnesty experts revealed both the government of South Sudan and opposition forces violated the UN-led arms embargo.

Amnesty International successfully advocated for the Security Council to vote on a resolution that would renew the arms embargo on South Sudan. Maintaining the embargo will contribute to restricting the ability of armed actors to perpetrate human rights violations and abuses.