Arms Trade Treaty

Origins, Context & Background of Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)

The international Arms Trade is out of control! There is as yet no coordinated mechanism or global criteria to be used in a harmonised fashion and applied equally to all arms exporters and importers.

Irresponsible arms transfers foment violent conflicts, perpetuate poverty and underdevelopment, and contribute to countless violations of human rights and humanitarian law. Every day, thousands of people around the world are tortured, injured, or sent fleeing from their homes by forces armed with deadly weapons. Every minute of every day, someone is killed by armed violence. Further, a person living in the developing world is twice as likely to die from arms violence as a person in the industrialized world.

The violence - whether crime or conflict-related - stemming from the widespread availability of arms increases violence and deters foreign investment and tourism, a key source of income for many developing states. Injuries related to weapons place a heavy burden on a state's health care system. Not only must the affected communities endure a lack of security, but they must also bear the high cost of treating victims and supporting the disabled and their families.

Although important steps have been taken toward regulating the 'illicit' trade in weapons, such efforts are bound for limited success unless they are accompanied by a strict normative framework for controlling the 'licit' trade of arms. As part of a comprehensive approach to enhancing human security, states must work to establish strict national, regional and international arms transfer criteria that are consistent with their existing responsibilities under international law, based on common global principles. The development of such national criteria was mandated in the United Nations (UN) Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects (hereinafter the "PoA"). Various other international, multilateral, and regional processes further the promotion of these global principles. There is still much to do.

See Global Principles

About the ATT

The best way to decrease tragic violence from occurring in the future is to establish a set of universal standards to guide the trade in arms. The global, regional and national scope of the arms trade means that existing regulations are not enough. The UN Charter, as well as international human rights and humanitarian law, already provide a number of important limitations on states' freedom to transfer weapons. However, some of these restrictions are only implied and their application to the trade in weapons is not altogether clear, therefore it is increasingly necessary to codify them in an explicit agreement that makes clear the international responsibilities of weapons transfers.

Drawing on existing international law, the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is a model for a legally binding international agreement establishing a set of basic rules to regulate the international transfer of conventional arms. It is based on the simple principle that arms exporters and importers have a responsibility to ensure that they do not provide weapons that would be used in serious violations of international law.

The aim of the draft treaty is to establish a precise, harmonized normative framework for state behavior in the international weapons market. The treaty would set out core, common minimum standards for international arms transfers, and a workable operative mechanism for the application of these standards. These basic standards would not, of course, preclude the establishment of stronger national or regional controls.

It is critical to note that the ATT would not impose a completely new normative framework on state behavior. Rather, it would affirm states' existing responsibilities under international law, clarify them, give them the force of renewed commitment, and provide a mechanism for their consistent and effective application to the trade in weapons.

There are several important mandates for the establishment of such an instrument, including the UN Programme of Action agreed at the July 2001 UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms. It is incumbent upon the international community to follow-up on existing mandates by moving towards an instrument that codifies these existing responsibilities and applies them to the trade in weapons.

Origin of ATT : Nobel Peace Laureates Initiative

We come from different nations with varied histories, and in the past, the world has honored each of our struggles for peace and justice with the Nobel Prize for Peace. Today, we speak as one to voice our common concern regarding the destructive effects of the unregulated arms trade. Together, we have written an International Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers, which, once adopted by all arms-selling nations, will benefit all humanity, nationalities, ethnicities, and religions.
- New York, May 1997

Signed by following Nobel Laureates :
  1. Oscar Arias S?nchez
  2. His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama
  3. Ellie Wiesel
  4. Betty Williams
  5. Gururaj Mutalik (International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War)
  6. Jos? Ramos-Horta
  7. Susan Waltz (Amnesty International)
  8. Donald Gann (American Friends Service Committee)
The start of an initiative:

In October of 1995, Dr. Oscar Arias called upon a group of his fellow Nobel Peace Laureates to promote an international campaign to establish such an agreement. Together, they drafted the Nobel Peace Laureates International Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers. A declaratory instrument intended as a challenge to the international community, the Code of Conduct laid down a stringent set of principles that ought to condition all arms export decisions: respect for human rights, humanitarian law, sustainable development and peaceful coexistence.

The initiative was publicly launched at a ceremony in New York City in May of 1997. Based upon the Code of Conduct principles, today this initiative is known as the Arms Trade Treaty, and currently carries the endorsement of over twenty individuals and organisations honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize.

How would an ATT work?

The ATT would require states to adopt and implement national mechanisms requiring the express authorization of international transfers of arms.

The ATT would prohibit the transfer of arms that could be used to seriously violate internationally established standards of human rights, international humanitarian law and non-aggression.

The ATT would require exporting states to take into account the effect that transferred weapon could have on sustainable development, regional peace and security, or the commission of violent crimes.

An Arms Trade Treaty would be binding

The adoption of international declarations, guidelines, or other voluntary measures are important achievements, and are well worth pursuing. However, experience has shown that in the long run, they do not have the same moral or standard-setting force as do legal instruments. For this reason, such measures must be seen as steps in a longer process, a process that will eventually lead to a binding international agreement.

An Arms Trade Treaty would be universal

Some countries and regions have taken very encouraging steps toward controlling the arms trade and preventing the flow of weapons to abusers. These steps are extremely important and are to be commended. However, because of the international nature of the arms trade, weapons that are cut off from one state can continue to flow from another. For this reason it is crucial that these initiatives be complimented by the development of a global instrument that will ensure that the controls imposed by one state or region are not undermined by another state or region.

The Arms Trade Treaty would be comprehensive

The ATT's principal objective requires states to authorize arms transfers and to set out core, minimum export criteria for use in this process, thereby bringing states into line with their obligations under international law and preventing the most egregious transfers. But the ATT is also conceived of as a framework agreement, which allows more complex or controversial aspects of the arms trade to be treated in subsequent protocols. The ultimate goal is to establish a comprehensive system that will enable states to effectively control all facets of the international weapons trade.

The latest on ATT:

In October 2006, during a meeting of the UN's Disarmament and Security Committee, 139 governments voted in favour of a resolution to start work towards an international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). After three years' hard work by Control Arms campaigners all around the world, the UN voted in October 2006 in favour of a resolution to start work on an Arms Trade Treaty. The new resolution commits the United Nations to set up a Group of Governmental Experts to establish the basis of ?a comprehensive, legally binding instrument establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms? ? An Arms Trade Treaty. Thanks to pressure from campaigners before the vote, not only did the text of the treaty change to include a direct reference to Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law, but 116 countries agreed to co-sponsor the resolution and 139 countries voted in favour of it. This treaty will have a real impact on the arms trade, and will ultimately prevent weapons ending up in the hands of human rights abusers, and fuelling conflict and poverty.

Read the resolution that the First Committee of the United Nations voted on.

And then on 6 December 2006, work on an international Arms Trade Treaty began immediately following a historic vote in the UN General Assembly, which saw 153 governments supporting the proposed Treaty to prevent international arms transfers that fuel conflict, poverty and serious human rights violations. Only the United States voted against the proposal, and 24 governments abstained.

The UN General Assembly vote comes just three years after the launch of the Control Arms campaign, which has seen over a million people in 170 countries calling for a Treaty. There was also strong support from the governments of Europe as well as the Pacific and Latin America.

One of the first tasks for the incoming UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, will be to begin canvassing the views of all UN Member States on the proposed Arms Trade Treaty in order to report back to the General Assembly in late 2007. A group of governmental experts from around the world will then be established to examine the issue in detail and report back to the UN General Assembly in 2008.

Thus, today, we have seen an overwhelming majority of the world's governments accepting the need for an Arms Trade Treaty to prevent weapons sales that fuel conflict and poverty. That is a historic step. When the Control Arms campaign began in 2003 only 5 governments supported the concept of an Arms Trade Treaty. Today there are 153. Now governments must follow through and achieve a strong, effective Treaty. Every day that they delay is another day when thousands of lives are wrecked by armed violence.

What you and me can do ?

The arms trade is out of control, and thousands of people suffer as a result. Uncontrolled access to weapons can give states, armed individuals and groups a sense of impunity for their actions, leading them to conduct acts of unfathomable cruelty. Mothers are raped at gunpoint in front of their families. Children watch as their fathers are taken away or shot in their homes. In some conflicts, children are abducted and forced into armed forces and made to kill their friends or family members.

Sometimes entire villages are targeted - small arms allowing the perpetrators to efficiently slaughter even those trying desperately to escape. The actions of those that commit such acts are not only horrific, they are also illegal under international law. And yet, in many circumstances, those committing these atrocities enjoy unfettered access to the international arms market. It is time to act, and we need your help. See how you can make a difference too!

Check out what you can do as...
  • an individual
  • an NGO
  • a government

What you can do as an individual ?

Write your government representatives! Here is a sample letter for your convenience:

The Arms Trade Treaty initiative was originally launched by Dr. Oscar Arias and seven other Nobel Peace Laureates in 1997. Today, this initiative has gained the support of governments, civil society, and Peace Laureates worldwide. Please join our efforts.

I urge the government of __________________ to support the ATT principles, their development, promotion.

States should adopt and apply a requirement that all arms transfers be authorised by the issuing of licences;

States should not authorize arms transfers that violate existing obligations under international law in relation to the transfer of specific weapons or the transfer to specific end users;

States should not authorize arms transfers in circumstances in which they have, or ought reasonably to have, knowledge that transfers are likely to violate the UN Charter; commit serious violations of human rights or international humanitarian law; commit genocide or crimes against humanity; or be diverted for these uses;

States should take into account the impact of arms transfers on regional security and sustainable development;

States should report on international arms transfers to an established inter- national authority.

What you can do as an NGO

1.- Support the initiative!

Every NGO can help further the ATT initiative and its promotion worldwide by increasing activities, training, and opportunities in every region. Your organizational efforts increase visibility of the issues and further the understanding of the need for responsible arms transfers. Spread the word and become involved in the way your organization can be do so.

2.- Coordination and Communication

To develop a powerful NGO coalition in cooperation with regional and international partners, circulate information on initiative advances, and to enhance the SC as representative, effective and accountable to the wider international and regional community of NGOs.

3.- Advocacy

To build consensus around the central principles of, and mobilise active support for, the ATT among governments and to build multilateral 'building blocks' in regional and sub-regional fora that reflect these principles.

4.- Research

To develop an irrefutable case regarding the need for arms transfer controls and to refine the policy models designed to respond to this need.

5.- Training and Capacity Building

To facilitate the sharing and expertise both among existing partners and with newly identified partners in the region, and to translate this capacity into vastly increased public awareness of the consequences of irresponsible arms transfers.

What you can do as a government ?

As necessary as it is for the enhancement of human security, effective regulation of the international arms trade will not be established overnight. The adoption of an Arms Trade Treaty is an ambitious goal that can only be achieved through a long-term process aimed at building the public pressure and political will necessary for genuine change. However, there are a number of intermediate steps that states can and must take in order to advance this process:

1.- Strengthen national legislation on the arms trade

One important way in which states can work towards an Arms Trade Treaty is to ensure that their own national legislation is in line with its provisions. Strong national legislation gives states the means to ensure that their territory is never used for irresponsible weapons transfers. Additionally, the development of strict national legislation on arms transfers helps bring states into compliance with their existing responsibilities under international law and helps build momentum for change at the regional and international levels.

2.- Provide training and technical assistance to develop more effective export control systems

Many states that play important roles in the arms trade, either as exporters or transshipment points, lack the legislation, resources or technical capacity to ensure that effective control is exerted over the movement of arms. States and other donor agencies should provide technical assistance for the development of legislation in line with the criteria in the ATT and the resources and training to ensure that it is effectively implemented.

3.- Promote the development of regional agreements

A number of regional organizations like the EU, OSCE, ECOWAS, and OAS as well as other multilateral organizations like the Wassenaar Arrangement, have developed agreements establishing some common criteria and procedures on the arms trade. These agreements are extremely useful in building consensus around central principles, in building confidence between states, and in building momentum at the global level. In regions where such agreements already exist, governments can work to strengthen their provisions and ensure that they are based on the strictest standards of human rights and international humanitarian law. In regions where such agreements do not already exist, governments can work with regional organizations and with civil society groups to establish them.

4.- Promote international processes to better control the trade in weapons

There are a number of steps that states can take at the international level to promote the establishment of an Arms Trade Treaty. These include:

Actively participating in the follow-up meetings to the UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in all its Aspects, and insisting that they consider the question of state responsibility in arms transfers;

Supporting the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on Small Arms and Human Rights;

Working with other states to sponsor a General Assembly resolution calling for strict international controls on the trade in weapons and for the international community to move towards an Arms Trade Treaty; and

Working with like minded governments from other regions to form a "core group" of states committed to advocating for an Arms Trade Treaty.

photo of the week
19 JUNE: International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict successfully observed at MWGSN Office Imphal

19 JUNE: International Day for...

more photos
National Action Plan on Women, Peace & Security for India
Northeast Folks: Less Indian - Bezbaruah Committee
The Long Path For Justice for Survivors of Sexual Violence in Conflict