UN officials hail entry into force of landmark global arms trade treaty

A UN peacekeeper in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) examines AK-47 magazines stored in a warehouse in Beni after they have been collected in the demobilization process in Matembo, North Kivu. UN Photo/Martine Perret

23 December 2014 – United Nations officials are welcoming the entry into force of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), hailing it as a new chapter in collective efforts to bring responsibility, accountability and transparency to the global arms trade.

“From now on, the States Parties to this important treaty will have a legal obligation to apply the highest common standards to their international transfers of weapons and ammunition,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement issued today ahead of the instrument’s entry into force on 24 December.

The ATT, adopted by the UN General Assembly on 2 April 2013, is the first legally-binding multilateral agreement that prohibits States from exporting conventional weapons to countries when they know those weapons will be used for genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. As of 23 December, 60 States had ratified the treaty, and 130 had signed it, indicating that they intended to ratify.

Ultimately, the ATT, the UN Chief said, attests to “our collective determination to reduce human suffering by preventing the transfer or diversion of weapons to areas afflicted by armed conflict and violence and to warlords, human rights abusers, terrorists and criminal organizations.”

He added that it is critical to continue to promote universal participation in the ATT, by encouraging all States, particularly major arms exporters and importers, to join the treaty. “With this in mind, I call on those States who have not yet done so, to accede to it without delay.”

Calling it a breakthrough in curbing human rights violations and reducing human suffering, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, hailed the treaty for establishing the highest possible common international standards for regulating the international trade in conventional arms.

“The lax regulations covering the trade in conventional weapons and the consequent widespread availability and misuse of arms have had a huge human cost. The unregulated arms trade is one of the main drivers of armed conflict and violence, contributing and facilitating the commission of human rights and humanitarian law violations,” he said in a statement.

“The ATT is a tool for States to prevent the violence and insecurity resulting from the flow of arms, and in so doing to fulfil their human rights obligations,” he said, calling on all States that have not ratified the ATT to do so and to apply the treaty’s provisions to the broadest range of conventional arms.

High Commissioner Zeid reiterated that States that are party to the ATT should not authorise any transfer if they have knowledge that the arms would contribute to genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. If there is an overriding risk that exported arms could be used to commit or facilitate a serious human rights violation or a serious violation of international humanitarian law, then such transfers should be stopped.

Meanwhile, a group of independent UN human rights experts said that while the ATT is a very important step to peace and security, numerous ambiguities remain in the text that could end up supporting the arms industry.

“Terrorist attacks have become more and more atrocious by the kind of weapons they acquire. This needs to end,” the experts stressed, noting that “nothing in the treaty forbids selling weapons to non-State entities.”

Elzbieta Karska, who currently heads the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries, said that the treaty is a welcome avenue to curbing the provision of arms to illicit actors such as mercenaries.

“Ratifying this treaty will assist States in regulating non-State entities such as private military and security companies –which often carry and use arms in their line of work– and ensuring compliance with international law,” Ms. Karska added.

The Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas, said: “More important than this treaty on regulation of the arms trade are efforts at reduction of weapon stockpiles worldwide and ongoing disarmament negotiations that must be pursued in good faith, especially in the field of nuclear disarmament.”

“The world needs to stop not only the trade in, but also the profit-driven production of, all arms since once weapons have been produced, there is a strong incentive to make sure they are put to use somewhere in the world, so as to continue producing them,” the experts underscored.

The experts, appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, work on a voluntary basis and are independent from any government or organization.

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