Fantastic news from our friends at Amnesty International. After twenty years of campaigning, millions of actions and thousands of hours speaking to politicians, at last we have an international Arms Trade Treaty. This treaty literally has the power to save millions of lives! Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International, shares news with us of this huge human rights victory…
“After decades of planning, strategizing, drafting treaty language, intensive research, advocacy and campaigning, Amnesty International is celebrating the adoption of a global Arms Trade Treaty by the UN General Assembly. 154 states voted in favour of the treaty; 3 states (Iran, North Korea and Syria) voted against and 23 states abstained. While many individuals and NGOs played an important role in ensuring its passage, I can also say proudly and unequivocally that the Arms Trade Treaty adopted on April 2, is a testament to Amnesty International’s singular global reach, tenacity, and ability to focus on making long-term, lasting change.
It was fascinating to be part of the final negotiations at the UN in New York during the last few weeks with our ATT team, which included staff and volunteers from Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa, and Europe. You won’t read about this in the media reports, but last-minute developments could have made the difference between a strong, effective treaty and one that was significantly weakened. It was critical to ensure that countries who opposed (in contrast to those who abstained) remained restricted to three governments whose legitimacy was absolutely non-existent.
Coming into the final days, Amnesty International was reasonably confident that we would get a vote of a super-majority – regardless of whether it was required under UN rules – but we were determined to keep the “No’s” to just these three countries. Our advocacy team shuttled tirelessly among UN delegates representing countries most likely to vote no or abstain, urging them to sign on to the treaty. Not only did we succeed but we got two countries that we never thought would support the treaty to finally vote “Yes” – Algeria and Zimbabwe. By ensuring that only the three “renegade” governments of Iran, North Korea and Syria voted “No” it will be very difficult for states to impugn the treaty.
When Amnesty International and a group of Nobel laureates first floated the idea of campaigning for a treaty that would regulate the flow of arms and ensure that no arms would be sent to those who would commit atrocities, many thought we were naive and even a little foolish. After all, arms trading is a lucrative business – about US$70 billion per year – and those who sell arms are not just making huge profits but also acquiring significant political power. But we were able to demonstrate the human costs of the failure to regulate the trade in arms. Our researchers travelled to every region of the world; poured over shipping manifests; identified different types of military hardware and were able to provide indisputable evidence that the lack of regulation of conventional arms, including small arms and light weapons, was responsible for civilian deaths and suffering in numerous countries around the world.
This treaty is just a first step, of course, but it would be a mistake to underestimate its importance: it is a groundbreaking step forward, which for the first time in history demonstrates the acceptance by most governments that arms trade controls should be aligned with states’ international obligations, including their human rights obligations. It will significantly strengthen our ability to monitor the international arms trade and build a system that effectively curbs the sale of arms to those who use them to commit unspeakable atrocities.
The treaty will have a significant impact for civilians caught up in conflict, and also includes specific references to the experiences of women and girls, who suffer some of the worst consequences of the unregulated arms trade. In assessing the risk of arms being used for human rights violations, states will have to specifically take into account arms ‘being used to commit or facilitate serious acts of gender based violence or serious acts of violence against women and children.’ ”
For additional information and the full text of the treaty, please see Amnesty International’s website.
Photo: © Amnesty International