Swift Action Needed so Arms Trade Treaty Can Start Saving Lives

Barely two months have passed since the overwhelming majority of the world’s governments adopted a historic Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) at the United Nations General Assembly, laying the foundation for future lifesaving work to regulate the global trade in conventional arms.

The world had been waiting a long time for this moment.

Interested governments and nongovernmental organizations including Amnesty International worked for 20 years, the last seven years under the aegis of the UN, to reach this climax. The goal was winning near-universal support for a treaty with the potential to save countless lives and pave the way to revolutionize worldwide controls on the US $70 billion global trade in conventional weapons.

On 2 April, 155 UN member states finally agreed to adopt the first-ever global treaty that can prevent the flow of arms into countries where they will be used to commit atrocities.

Nepal was among those that voted to adopt the ATT resolution. But earlier, when there was a resolution in 2006 in the UN General Assembly to take world’s opinion whether there is need of ATT, Nepal had abstained in the voting while 153 countries had voted in support. It could be because of campaign by human rights and civil society organizations including Amnesty International, Nepal begun ATT formulation process since 2008 and voted in favour of it in the final phase of the Treaty making process in April this year. Nepal further demonstrated its commitment to achieving the treaty.

Amnesty International has campaigned since the early 1990s to achieve robust, legally binding global rules on international arms transfers to stem the flow of conventional arms and munitions that fuel atrocities and abuse. Despite some shortcomings, we believe that the ATT represents a significant step towards this goal and provides a firm foundation to better regulate the international flow of weapons.

While there are certainly parts of the Treaty that could be stronger, the ATT has the real potential to reduce violations of human rights and humanitarian law, particularly if State Parties implement its Articles 6 and 7 in good faith and in line with the object and purpose of the treaty.

Article 6.3 is an important step forward, as it prohibits arms transfers by a State if it has knowledge that those transfers would be used to commit genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Article 7 will require a State Party to not authorize an export where there is an overriding risk that the export could be used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of international human rights or humanitarian law – including summary and arbitrary killings, torture, and enforced disappearances.

The treaty also obliges states to assess the risk of arms exports being used to commit or facilitate gender-based violence or serious acts of violence against women and children.

By establishing these clear due diligence standards, the ATT is a major achievement in creating standardized export controls norms.

But the gains achieved will only be realized if the treaty is rapidly and effectively implemented. That is why Amnesty International is encouraging states to sign and subsequently ratify the ATT to bring it into force as soon as possible.

The Treaty will open for signature at the United Nations on 3 June 2013. Fifty ratifications are needed before it can enter into force. We urge Nepal to:

  • Sign the ATT on 3 June 2013 at the United Nations in New York, or as soon as possible afterwards;
  • Declare that Nepal will apply provisionally Article 6 and Article 7 pending the treaty’s entry into force (as provided for in Article 23) and take the necessary national measures to ensure the implementation of these Articles;
  • Rapidly make the necessary changes to national legislation with a view to ratifying the ATT as soon as possible.

The UN General Assembly’s adoption of the ATT in April was a watershed moment for international human rights. Swift action on the above steps will keep up the momentum to ensure the treaty’s prompt entry into force and pave the way for the real work to curtail the irresponsible arms trade’s devastating impact around the world.

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