Countries must regulate arms trade to prevent human rights violations – UN expert

Alfred de Zayas, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order. Photo: K. Berking

27 July 2012 – Countries must seize the opportunity provided by a United Nations conference to regulate conventional arms trade in a way that prevents grave human rights violations, a UN independent expert stressed today.

“The time is ripe for a robust and enforceable international treaty to limit and regulate the arms trade,” the Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas, said in a news release.

“World peace is threatened not only by weapons of mass destruction but also by conventional weapons which have led to countless violations of human rights, including the rights to life and to physical integrity,” he added. “A strong treaty can contribute greatly to international and regional peace, security and stability.”

The UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which ends today, has brought together the Organization’s 193 Member States to negotiate what is seen as the most important initiative ever regarding conventional arms regulation within the UN.

At the end of 2010, an estimated 27.5 million people were internally displaced as a result of conflict, while millions more have sought refuge abroad. In many cases, the armed violence that drove them from their homes was fuelled by the widespread availability and misuse of weapons.

Mr. de Zayas welcomed efforts by States to agree on globally binding rules to control the arms trade. However, he noted that the instrument must be guided by the rights and obligations of States under applicable international norms, including human rights law, and emphasized that the current text leaves much room for improvement.

“At the moment, the draft text leaves too much flexibility for States when authorising an arms sale,” Mr. de Zaya said. “States must exert all efforts to ensure that arms, as well as ammunition, are not transferred – whereas the current draft only refers to exportation – to countries where there is a substantial risk that they will be used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law.”

Mr. de Zayas also noted that States must take appropriate measures to ensure that the treaty recognises that the proliferation of arms and ammunition increases the likelihood of violence against groups at risk including women and girls.

Independent experts like Mr. de Zayas are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not United Nations staff, nor are they paid for their work.

On Thursday, the spokesperson for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the UN chief is also concerned about the “very limited progress in the negotiations” at the Conference. He appealed to countries to show flexibility and make progress, and “remains hopeful that the Conference will yield a robust and legally binding Arms Trade Treaty that will have a real impact on the lives of those millions of people suffering from the consequences of armed conflict, repression and armed violence.”


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