UN/Tokyo: Brazen treaty violations overshadow arms control conference

Many governments are still fuelling conflicts around the world and breaking the rules of the landmark Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) by supplying weapons to known human rights violators, Amnesty International said today. Delegates will meet in Tokyo this week for the fourth annual Conference of States Parties (CSP) to the ATT.

“Earlier this year the Israeli military, which receives generous arms supplies from the USA and EU states, shot dead at least 140 Palestinian protesters and injured thousands more in Gaza. Meanwhile the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, which enjoys the fulsome support of the UK, France, USA and others, continues to inflict devastating suffering on the Yemeni civilian population,” said Patrick Wilcken, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Arms Control and Human Rights.

States who continue to supply arms to Saudi Arabia and Israel are brazenly flouting the rules.
Patrick Wilcken, Researcher on Arms Control and Human Rights

“The Arms Trade Treaty states clearly that arms exports are prohibited if there is a real risk of them contributing to human rights violations. States who continue to supply arms to Saudi Arabia and Israel are therefore brazenly flouting the rules.”

The ATT entered into force in 2014 after years of dedicated campaigning by Amnesty International and other NGOs. It prohibits the transfer between states of weapons, munitions and related items when it is known that they would be used for war crimes, or there is an overriding risk they could contribute to serious human rights violations.

Fuelling conflicts around the world

The refusal of the UK, France, USA and others to suspend arms transfers to Saudi Arabia, despite a litany of possible war crimes carried out by the coalition it leads in Yemen, has become the emblematic case of irresponsible arms trading. There has been some progress over the past year, with a growing number of countries recognizing that arming the Saudi-led coalition could implicate them in war crimes.

Activists, journalists and some politicians in countries like Belgium, Finland, Germany and Greece have begun challenging arms transfers to the Saudi-led coalition. In some instances, states have stopped transfers to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other coalition members because of their actions in Yemen. 

In April and May this year Amnesty International renewed its call for an arms embargo on Israel after Israeli soldiers shot dead at least 140 Palestinian protesters, who posed no imminent threat to life, along the fence that separates the Gaza Strip from Israel. The USA is by far Israel’s largest arms supplier, but many other ATT States Parties, including Germany, France, Italy, Bulgaria, Czech Republic and South Korea, continue to supply Israel with arms and ammunition.

Despite these concrete and well-documented cases, at past conferences there has been a marked reluctance to discuss substantive issues. As well as potential treaty violations, Amnesty International has raised concerns about an ongoing lack of transparency. Less than half of the Annual Reports expected for imports and exports in 2017 were submitted by the deadline of 31 May. Two States Parties elected to keep their reports confidential and several others omitted information because of commercial and/or national-security reasons.

The treaty has the potential to save countless lives – but only if states honour their obligations.
Patrick Wilcken

“There has been an overwhelming lack of political will by States to address treaty compliance issues and ensure accountability for reporting non-compliance at past conferences, which have instead tended to revolve around administrative issues,” said Patrick Wilcken.

“The Arms Trade Treaty was designed to reduce human suffering and increase transparency around the global arms trade, but many states continue to prioritize lucrative political and trade relationships over these objectives. The treaty has the potential to save countless lives – but only if states honour their obligations.”

Ahead of the meeting in Tokyo, Amnesty International has highlighted three other possible treaty breaches:

Amnesty International researchers recently traced the rifles Cameroonian soldiers used to extrajudicially execute civilians in the city of Achigachia to a factory in Serbia. The organization also reviewed visual material showing a Serbian Zastava M21 rifle in the hands of armed separatists who have carried out violent attacks in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions. According to UN data and Arms Trade Treaty annual reports, Serbia has been a significant exporter of small arms to Cameroon over the past decade. This is not the first time human rights abuses by Cameroonian forces using Serbian small arms have been documented. Amnesty International is calling on Serbia and all other states to suspend further supplies.

Amnesty International has also documented excessive use of force and extrajudicial executions by Nicaraguan authorities to crush protests which began in April. More than 300 people have been killed since the protests began – the vast majority of them by police or pro-government armed groups. According to UN Comtrade data, over the last four years Nicaragua has imported small arms, related parts and ammunition mainly from the USA, followed by Brazil and Mexico.

In the Philippines, President Duterte has continued his campaign of violence against alleged drug offenders, in which thousands of people have been killed. The weapons most commonly used to carry out these killings are small arms, especially pistols and revolvers. Several countries have exported small arms to the Philippines, including Israel, Bulgaria, South Africa, India and South Korea. China and Russia have also offered to supply small arms to the Philippines.