On the 2nd of April, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to approve a pioneering treaty aimed at regulating the enormous global trade in conventional weapons. This is an industry with an estimated annual revenue of US $70 billion.
For the first time we have a global commitment to link the sale of arms the human rights records of the buyers. The Treaty calls for sales to be evaluated on whether the weapons will be used to break humanitarian law, foment genocide or war crimes, abet terrorism or organized crime or slaughter women and children.
Members of the General Assembly voted 154 to 3 to approve the Arms Trade Treaty, with 23 abstentions — many from nations with dubious recent human rights records like Bahrain, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
The Treaty covers tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber weapons, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and launchers, small arms and light weapons. Ammunition exports are subject to the same criteria as the other war material.
It is scheduled to go into effect after 50 nations have ratified it. Given the overwhelming vote, diplomats anticipated that it could go into effect in two to three years, relative quickly for an international treaty.
Throughout the negotiations WILPF played a significant role in negotiating the Treaty provisions relating to gender based violence.
It ran a campaign during the ATT process to make prevention of gender-based violence legally binding in the Treaty and pushed for recognition of the link between weapons and gender-based violence.
Responses from the Peace community
Many supporters conceded that the highly complicated negotiations forced compromises that left significant loopholes. The Treaty focuses on sales, for example, and not on all the ways in which conventional arms are transferred, including as gifts, loans, leases and aid. It also does not include non state actors.
Having the abstentions from two major arms exporters lessens the moral weight of the treaty. … By abstaining they have left their options open.
– Nic Marsh, Peace Research Institute in Oslo
This is a very good framework to build on … But it is only a framework.
– Peter Woolcott, Australian diplomat who presided over the negotiations
The treaty comes at a time when the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons has become extremely complicated. More is known about the number of nuclear warheads, stocks of chemical weapons and transfers of major conventional weapons than about small arms. The small arms industry appears to be fragmented. More than 1,000 companies in about 100 countries are involved in some aspect of small arms production, with significant producers in around 30 countries.
– Small Arms Survey
The Arms Trade Treaty provides a powerful alternative to the body bag approach currently used to respond to humanitarian crises. Today nations enact arms embargoes in response to humanitarian crises only after a mass loss of life. The treaty prohibits the weapon sales in the first place.
– Ray Offenheiser, President, Oxfam America.
The world has been waiting a long time for this historic treaty. After long years of campaigning, most states have agreed to adopt a global treaty that can prevent the flow of arms into countries where they will be used to commit atrocities.
– Brian Wood, Head of Arms Control and Human Rights, Amnesty International
The UN Arms Trade Treaty Treaty makes it illegal to sell weapons if there is risk of gender-based violence. [It] is the first ever treaty that recognizes the link between gender-based violence and the international arms trade.
The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) welcomes the adoption of the treaty as a first step towards regulating international transfers of arms. However, the organization cautions that the treaty not sufficiently robust or comprehensive. The risk of legitimizing the international arms trade, especially irresponsible transfers, must be avoided through careful interpretation and implementation.
– Reaching Critical Will a program of WILPF International
Weapons increase the risk of gender-based violence, including sexual violence, and impede women’s political participation around the world. The Treaty’s explicit provision on gender-based violence not only recognizes the links between such violence and the arms trade, but makes it illegal to transfer weapons if there is a risk, for example, that the weapons will be used to facilitate rape.
– Ray Acheson, Head of WILPF Arms Trade Treaty work.
Treaty still has limitations and loopholes. While the adopted ATT text is stronger than previous drafts, it still contains substantial limitations and loopholes. As the treaty was negotiated between all countries in the world under the rule of consensus, the treaty’s scope is narrow, providing only for consideration of a limited number of weapon systems. Its provisions covering ammunition, munitions, parts, and components are not comprehensive and it does not legally mandate states to increase transparency in the international arms trade. The treaty does not address concerns that major exporters themselves sometimes use arms to engage in violations of human rights or crimes of aggression.
However, the ATT text is only a starting point. The ATT process has shown a significant international mobilization against the negative humanitarian and human rights impacts of the international arms trade. Now, we must implement it with the strongest possible interpretation in order to do what the treaty first set out to do, reduce human suffering.
– Madeleine Rees, Secretary-General of WILPF