War crimes, unlawful killings, torture and other serious human rights abuses have been committed around the world using a wide range of weapons, munitions and military and security equipment. These are often provided to perpetrators in almost unlimited supply, encouraging and prolonging unlawful violence. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, injured, raped and forced to flee from their homes as a result; governments continue to license irresponsible arms flows to fuel human atrocities and abuse.
In the early 1990s Amnesty International began calling for a treaty to ensure that states stop allowing transfers of military and policing equipment where it is likely those arms will be used for serious human rights abuses. In 2003 Amnesty International launched an international campaigning with civil society for a global Arms Trade Treaty to set rules for the strict regulation of the international transfers of conventional arms.
After twenty years of global campaigning, on 2 April 2013, governments at the United Nations voted overwhelmingly to adopt a global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT); since then over a hundred states have signed and many of those have started to ratify the Treaty. The rules, if implemented, will stop a wide range of arms flows when the sending state knows those weapons would be used for human atrocities and abuse. States that are parties to the Treaty will meet and report regularly, and can strengthen it over time.
This is a huge victory for human rights, given the powerful forces that opposed the Treaty. For the first time, there is a treaty that has explicitly included conventional arms control and human rights rules.
Now the ATT has been adopted, there is an urgent need to put pressure on governments to sign, ratify and implement the Treaty. 50 ratifications will bring the Treaty into force, but we must keep pushing to get as many states as possible to implement the Treaty. Only then will the Treaty have the potential to save lives and livelihoods.
Our message is simple – if there is a substantial risk that arms exported to another country will contribute to serious human rights abuses or war crimes, those arms supplies must be stopped.
No more arms for atrocities or abuses!
Ongoing threats to human rights worldwide are posed by the irresponsible transfer not only of existing conventional arms and military equipment but also of policing equipment. In addition to this, new military and policing technologies are presenting new international challenges to human rights. Amnesty International also researches and takes action on problems posed by the trade and use of inhumane weapons of warfare, robotic weapons, ‘less lethal’ weapons used in policing and prisons and the trade in equipment used for torture.