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ATT Monitor, Vol. 9, No. 1

Editorial: Prioritising people over profits
22 August 2016


Ray Acheson 

On Monday, the second Conference of States Parties (CSP2) of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) begins in Geneva. This meeting should provide states, international organisations, and civil society with the opportunity to address challenges in the Treaty's implementation, establish comprehensive and transparent reporting procedures for arms transfers, and above all take on profiteering from war and violence. 

The ATT must be about reducing human suffering, not legitimising the arms trade. States parties must implement the Treaty with a view to enhancing peace, justice, and human rights, not profits and political manipulation. Each and every arms transfer must be weighed against the risks highlighted in the ATT, such as potential human rights and international humanitarian law (IHL) violations.

There is much work to be done at CSP2, and decisions around reporting are particularly critical. States parties must ensure transparency through comprehensive, public reporting. This is key to effective implementation of the ATT. It would be a backwards step in transparency if states are given the option not to have their reports publicly available.

But beyond transparency, the core objective of the ATT is to protect human rights, prevent armed violence and armed conflict, and enhance peace and security. Thus states parties should take the opportunity of being gathered together in Geneva to challenge and condemn arms transfers that violate and undermine the Treaty, especially those made by other state parties.

For example, arms transfers to Saudi Arabia have been condemned by many human rights and disarmament or arms control groups, the Committee of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the UN Secretary-General for resulting in human rights and IHL violations when used domestically and in the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen. A UN panel investigating the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen has uncovered “widespread and systematic” attacks on civilian targets in violation of international humanitarian law. When explosive weapons were used in populated areas in Yemen, civilians made up 95% of reported deaths and injuries.

States parties including Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, and signatories Turkey and the United States, all transferred weapons to Saudi Arabia in 2014. Several of these continued to issue export licences to Saudi Arabia in 2015. Figures released in April 2016 show that the UK government has issued 122 licences for military exports to Saudi Arabia since began its military intervention in Yemen in March 2015, signing off on £3.3 billion of arms exports in the first year of the war. In June 2015, France signed deals with Saudi Arabia worth $12 billion, including $500 million for 23 Airbus H145 helicopters. In October 2015, France signed a military, trade, and economic cooperation deal with Saudi Arabia worth $11.4 billion.

ATT states parties, by acceding to the Treaty, have acknowledged their extraterritorial obligations to prevent human rights and IHL violations that occur with the weapons they transfer. They must stand up and meet the obligations they have accepted to prevent such violations. And they must challenge those that fail to do so.

Reaching Critical Will, as always, will provide daily coverage of the meeting with this ATT Monitor. We will also post all statements, documents, and other materials on our website as it become available. To receive our daily reports by email, subscribe at www.reachingcriticalwill.org/subscribe.

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