Campaigners call time on global arms trade ahead of historic treaty talks

For decades the irresponsible and poorly regulated international arms trade has contributed to death, injuries, torture and other serious human rights abuses – including sexual violence – affecting a million or more people every year.

In July, all the world’s governments will meet at the United Nations in New York, for a month of negotiations to agree a global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) – the first of its kind.

Provided world leaders get the text right, this new treaty will establish strict controls on international transfers of weapons and munitions and a “Golden Rule” to prevent arms transfers where they are likely to contribute to serious human rights abuses.

Ahead of these talks, Amnesty International campaigners around the world are urging governments to support the strongest possible agreement.

“By negotiating an effective treaty that has the protection of human rights at its core, the world’s governments can put an end to irresponsible arms transfers that contribute to half a million people dying every year and millions more being injured, brutally repressed, raped or forced to flee from their homes,” said Brian Wood, Amnesty International’s Arms Control Manager.

“We’re calling on governments – especially the ‘Big Six’ arms exporters – to reject the ‘body bag’ approach where they just resort to imposing a UN arms embargo after the human rights catastrophe has already engulfed a population.”

Between them, the “Big Six” arms exporting countries – China, France, Germany, Russia, UK and USA – supply about three quarters of the value of the world’s weapons.

These states – which include all five permanent members of the UN Security Council – have a crucial role to play at July’s negotiations.   

But what would make a real difference?

To be effective, the treaty must require governments to undertake rigorous human rights risk assessments before deciding whether to authorize any arms transfer or transaction, and to regularly report publicly on all authorizations and deliveries.

Trading without permission or illegally diverting arms should be a criminal offence and states that fail to comply with the ATT’s obligations should be held to account.

Along with a global civil society coalition, Amnesty International has been campaigning for a robust treaty covering all types of conventional weapons, munitions, armaments and related equipment as well as all forms of government-to-government transfers.

The majority of UN member states support an ATT with at least some human rights protection. Many states, including African, American, Asian and European governments, have come out clearly backing strong measures like the “Golden rule” on human rights.

But a few states have expressed reservations about human rights safeguards, including key players such as China, Russia and some Middle East countries.

Amnesty International continues to call on all governments to face reality and back a comprehensive, effective Arms Trade Treaty with strong human rights protection at its heart.

Earlier this month, the organization launched a global petition with civil society partners calling on all governments to agree an ATT that protects human rights, lives and livelihoods.

As the ATT negotiations approach – and particularly over the course of the next week – campaigners around the world will put pressure on each of the “Big Six” arms exporters to urge them to back a “bullet-proof” treaty that stops arms supplies for atrocities and abuse.

Find out more on the “Big Six” arms exporting countries.

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