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ATT Monitor, Vol. 9, No. 4

Editorial: Talking inside, dying outside
25 August 2016 


Ray Acheson

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17 states parties of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) are selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, which is leading a group of states in bombing in populated areas in Yemen, resulting in massive civilian casualties, displacement, and food insecurity.

This is the headlining concern raised by most civil society interventions to the Second Conference of States Parties (CSP2). It also the headline of much mainstream media coverage related to the conference. Yet for the most part, states parties participating in the conference have not addressed this issue at all, not even during the discussion on treaty implementation on Wednesday.

Zambia, one of the few states to critique existing arms transfer practice and policy, pointed out that many of the governments providing assistance to other states for ATT implementation efforts are also transferring weapons that result in armed conflict, violence, death and destruction. Is it really a best practice to transfer lethal weapons to places where they are being used to kill and maim people and destroy homes and schools, asked the Zambian delegation.

Recognising that some states parties, such as Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland, have taken steps to amend their export policies with regard to the Yemen conflict, Control Arms highlighted the continuing problem. “We are appalled that States Parties, signatories and aspirant states, including France, the UK, the US and Canada continue to authorise weapons to Saudi Arabia in this context,” said Cesar Jaramillo of Project Ploughshares on behalf of the Control Arms coalition.

The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) also challenged these transfers, pointing out that “there is no doubt that these governments have all the information they need to understand the gravity of the situation and its relationship to their legal obligations on arms exports.” In addition to such cases where there is mounting evidence of international humanitarian law violations from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, Maribel Hernández of WILPF Spain explained that WILPF’s research has found many arms transfers have also been made in instances where the risk of the weapons being used to facilitate gender-based violence should have been well known.

The failures to comply with articles 6 and 7 of the ATT suggest that more is needed to tighten interpretations and applications of the Treaty. Amnesty International, for example, suggested that ATT states parties employ a requirement that arms exporters not approve an arms transfer “until importing states provide legally binding guarantees ensuring the intended end users of those arms will respect human rights and the rule of law.” Amnesty’s Brian Wood explained that the ATT “does not require a ‘balancing’ of export risks,” but rather it “a thorough assessment to weigh up of all the risks of the possible ‘negative consequences’ of each potential export and then conclude whether the export would be either unlawful or too risky to authorize.”

There is also scope to improve risk assessments and the application of the ATT through integration with other initiatives to deal with the international arms trade. Peru’s delegation, noting the difficulties in defining elements of the risk assessment especially regarding human rights, suggested that the ATT Secretariat should maintain close coordination with the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, which has the task of drawing up a report on “the impact of arms transfers on human rights” in pursuit of Human Rights Council resolution 32/12.

Current practice indicates that much more is needed to ensure that the ATT lives up to the expectations of those that demanded its negotiation and the needs of those being killed, injured, or displaced around the world. There are two days left at CSP2 yet ideas for strengthening the treaty’s implementation—or even methods to do so—have scarcely been raised. The Treaty’s credibility is at stake, but so are human lives.

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