The world is reaching the crossroads where governments must decide which approach to take in order to control the increasingly globalised trade in conventional arms. If the current practice of allowing irresponsible transfers of military and security equipment and related items across borders is allowed to continue, millions more lives and livelihoods will be destroyed and the fundamental human rights of many more people will be seriously violated.
On 6 December 2006 an overwhelming majority of United Nations (UN) Member States voted in the General Assembly to begin work for the elaboration of an agreement on the principle of a legally binding and universal Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Resolution 61/89, adopted by the UN General Assembly with the support of 153 States and only one State against, is a landmark step towards a more effective regulation of the international arms trade.(1) The vote is a strong indication that the global political will now exists to address the poorly regulated trade in arms, a trade which as this report shows contributes widely to serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law (IHL). However, a handful of states are now trying to delay and water down the proposed scope and parameters of such a treaty.
This report describes the irresponsible and poorly regulated trade and shows graphically through several illustrative cases how that trade contributes to serious violations of human rights in different parts of the world. In particular, it seeks to help demonstrate why the establishment of a global ATT is an urgent necessity and how an ATT could work to save lives, preserve livelihoods and enhance respect for human rights. This analysis shows that failure or protracted delay to establish an ATT with provisions requiring respect for human rights will, conversely, have dire consequences for the lives of millions of people in many countries.
The idea of an ATT rooted in universal principles based on international law, especially objective standards drawn from international human rights law and IHL, was initiated by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Nobel Peace Laureates, including Amnesty International and Oscar Arias, in the 1990s. Through the efforts of an increasing number of civil society actors and those of a few supportive governments, the idea has gained significant ground in recent years and there is now considerable support amongst UN Member States for a concerted effort to take this important initiative forward. However, there has also been a minority of States strongly sceptical or opposed to an ATT, notably China, Russia, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan and the USA.
The current initiative to establish an ATT is not the first time the international community has sought agreement on a global arms trade treaty. Under the League of Nations the Convention for the Control of the Trade in Arms and Ammunition(2) was negotiated in 1919 in response to the excessive accumulation of arms after the First World War.(3) The Convention would have required state parties to licence arms exports, publish an annual report detailing the export licences granted as well as quantities and recipients of exported arms and ammunition, and prohibit arms to Africa and the Asian parts of the then Ottoman Empire. Many States signed the Convention but very few ratified it mainly because it would have imposed a ban on sales to non-signatories. In 1925, the League of Nations sought agreement on a new Arms Traffic Convention which would allow exports to non-signatories and loosen the prohibition on granting licences. However, this initiative also failed amidst increasing rivalry between military power blocs as the world moved towards the Second World War.
As illustrated in the examples further below, the arms trade is now much more globalised and States' legal obligations much more refined and extensive. States may lawfully acquire conventional arms for legitimate self-defence and law-enforcement needs in accordance with international law and standards. General Assembly Resolution 61/89 acknowledges that the authority to do so is also accompanied by responsibilities. An ATT should not minimize or detract from this need of States but must recognize that there are other obligations that States have with respect to their transfers of arms. An ATT should identify core substantive obligations that reflect existing international legal commitments on the part of States to:
- Prevent threats to international peace and security;
- Ensure respect for IHL; and
- Co-operate in the respect, protection and fulfilment of human rights.
Accordingly, this report explains why the use of conventional arms by States must comply with international standards including those set by the UN Charter, IHL and international human rights law. Crucially, these responsibilities also extend to the transfer of conventional weapons and, if it is to be credible, an ATT should fully reflect these obligations.
As a first step towards an ATT, UN Resolution 61/89 requested the UN Secretary-General to "seek the views of Member States on the feasibility, scope and draft parameters for a comprehensive, legally-binding instrument establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms and to submit a report to the General Assembly at its sixty-second session." At least 98 Member States submitted their views to the Secretary-General, reflecting a strong consensus that achieving an ATT is an urgent global priority. (4)
Amnesty International, on behalf of the ATT Steering Committee of NGOs, conducted an analysis of 92 of the submissions available at the time from Member States.5The submissions show an emerging consensus that an ATT needs to be universally fair and objective, should reflect the existing obligations and commitments of States and must address the realities of globalizing markets and international assistance programs in conventional arms. The UN Secretary General's Group of Governmental Experts which met during the first half of 2008 agreed there was a need to face up to these new realties: "Experts observed that globalization has changed the dynamics of the international arms trade. They noted that the types of weapon systems, equipment and their components being manufactured in cooperation, under joint ventures and licensing is increasing and that most arms producing States are increasingly relying on technology transfers and upgrades from external sources other than from their own indigenous production."(6) Most States, approximately 81 of the 92 submissions to the UN Secretary General analyzed by Amnesty International, expressed their support for the development of a comprehensive, legally binding instrument aimed at the establishment of common international standards for the export, import and transfer of conventional arms.(7) A very large majority - 72 of the 92 submissions reviewed - recognized the key importance of assessing the potential for a transfer to be used for at least certain abuses and violations of human rights law and IHL. The language ranges from ensuring that the criteria take into account "respect for international law including international human rights law and IHL..." to an ATT that will assist in "the prevention of a breach of IHL [and] prevention of abuses of human rights. Language in some submissions by States references the need to assess the potential risk of a transfer on human rights and IHL. In addition, a majority of States in their submissions believe that respect for IHL is one of the fundamental criteria by which arms transfers decisions must be assessed.(8) All 194
States party to the Geneva Conventions have already adopted this as Final Goal 2.3 at the 28th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, on 6 December 2003.9 The central role of human rights in the arms transfer licensing process is already clear in a number of existing legal and other instruments jointly agreed by States at the multilateral, regional and sub-regional levels. Through their participation in existing regional and multilateral arms transfer control agreements, 118 States have explicitly recognized that transfers of conventional arms and small arms should be refused where there is a substantial risk that they will contribute to serious human rights abuses or violations of IHL.