Category Archives: Arms Trade

The World’s first ever Arms Trade Treaty: What will it mean?

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



Latest update from Reaching Critical Will on the Arms Trade Treaty Negotiations – Disappointing

Ray Acheson of Reaching Critical Will – a WILPF sponsored program –  has prepared a useful summary of the progress on Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).  The title says it all The second draft: a treaty behind its time.

To read the summary go to


He reports that the President’s second draft of the arms trade treaty (ATT) released Friday evening fails to resolve almost all of the major problems in the draft text and as it stands is ultimately inadequate to truly prevent human suffering or enhance peace and security.

If adopted as is, it will provide legal cover for states to sell arms regardless of the consequences for human lives and well-being, for true peace and security.

In his assessment the draft text

“still retains vague and ambiguous obligations such as “measures may include”, “where necessary and feasible”, “as appropriate”, “encouraged to”, etc. A general reading of the text is still less like a binding treaty and more like a political declaration or resolution.

In some cases …the provisions of the treaty undermine existing international obligations. This is unacceptable and such issues must be fixed if this treaty is to be adopted. The vast majority of states have demanded changes to strengthen the treaty that are not reflected in this draft. National positions of just a few countries cannot allow international law to be eroded just so that they can continue profiting from poor regulation.

The ATT could be a constructive element in a larger human security architecture. Instead, it is being used to perpetuate the status quo of irresponsible arms transfers and an outdated concept of state-centric security. This concept no longer makes sense in our interconnected world where policies that enhance human security are much better suited to addressing current challenges.

In short, this treaty as currently drafted is behind its time. If it is not substantially fixed by the end of this week, it will represent a tragically lost opportunity.

[PDF] (0.98 MB)

Gender and the Arms Trade Treaty Negotiations During July 2012

 On 2–27 July 2012, all UN member states will gather in New York for the negotiation of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Reaching Critical Will and WILPF have been involved in following the proceedings and advocating for a strong treaty since 2006, at the start of the process leading up to negotiations. WILPF believes that an ATT should not merely be used as a procedural authorization of arms transfers. It should be a strong tool with the primary purpose of preventing armed conflict, preventing the violation of human rights and international humanitarian law, and seriously reducing the culture and economy of militarism. A strong ATT can help build the foundations for not just the regulation but also the reduction of the arms trade, along with the reduction of militarism throughout politics and society, reduction of military spending, and redirection of economic resources.

WILPF—along with Amnesty Internationalthe Women’s Network of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), and Religions for Peace—has consistently called for the inclusion of a specific gender criterion in the negotiated text. We have launched a Joint Policy Paper on Gender and the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which outlines our position. If the ATT is to be an effective legal instrument in regulating the international arms trade, recognition of the potential gendered impacts of international transfers must also be included.

We are calling for a specific criterion in the treaty to “require States not to authorize an international transfer of conventional arms where there is a substantial risk that the arms under consideration are likely to be used to perpetrate or facilitate acts of gender-based violence, including rape and other forms of sexual violence.

WILPF Sections and members are asked to support this call by taking action in your own countries before the final negotiations in July 2012:

1. Your section can endorse the call for a criteria – click here >>
2. Lobby your government at national level – See template letter >>
3. Share the campaign and paper with your contacts (by email, facebook, twitter etc).
4. Let us know what you/your section is doing so we can share.

During negotiations, Reaching Critical Will will monitor the negotiating conference and provide analysis and advocacy. As with the four preparatory committees leading up to these negotiations, RCW will be posting statements and documents online and will coordinate, edit, and contribute to a daily newsletter, the ATT Monitor. You can subscribe to receive the ATT Monitor each day during the negotiations.

Side events

WILPF will be co-hosting two side events on the topic of including gender in the ATT process during the ATT negations in July. The first event will provide a greater legal understanding as to why the ATT should specifically include a risk assessment criterion on sexual and gender-based violence and how to apply such a criterion in practice. The second  event will discuss important ways in which two treaties—the ATT and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of discrimination against Women (CEDAW)—can work to address violence against women.

In addition, the WILPF International Secretariat has invited four WILPF Sections to participate in a one-day training session that will focus on enhancing the work on a national level concerning arms trade and military expenditure. The training will include drawing up plans for national project and coordinating such projects with an international strategy, and will have a specific focus on fundraising and how to interact with governments on a national level.

WILPF hopes that through these events we will enhance the capacity amongst WILPF Sections to work on arms trade and military expenditure, in particular in countries that are either big arms exporters or countries where armed conflict leads to violations of human rights.


For more information about the ATT, please see RCW’s website. In addition, an updated toolkit for WILPF Sections is now available. The toolkit includes background information on the ATT, talking points to be considered when meeting with your national representatives, and materials and resources from WILPF and other NGOs working on achieving a robust and meaningful arms trade treaty. We hope you find it useful in your work against the international arms trade.

THIS INFORMATION WAS EMAILED BY Ms. Ray Acheson, Project Director, Reaching Critical Will
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

Nuclear Weapons and the arms trade: Effects on the human rights reputation and impact of the UK says WILPF UK

This summary note focusses on three critical issues that WILPF UK believes need to be taken up during the UK peer review session, with a view to assisting the UK government to make improvements that will contribute more effectively to ensuring and upholding human rights: the development and deployment of nuclear weapons, including costs and humanitarian consequences; the arms trade and protection of civilians; and the importance of enhancing human rights to fully achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

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