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September 2015 E-News

The refugee crisis has rightfully dominated the news so far this September. While governments have scrambled to respond, and many have failed to live up to their responsibilities, there has also been much solidarity from people across Europe and beyond. And finally some attention is being paid to the cause of the flows of refugees—the wars, and thus also, the international arms trade.

Weapons flow to Syria, to Saudi Arabia, to Iraq. Arms exporters profit from the ongoing violence and chaos—and then refuse to accept the refugees. The UK, for example, is selling weapons to Saudi Arabia being used in strikes against Yemen, despite the Saudi-led coalition’s violations of international law and despite the UK’s supposed commitment to the Arms Trade Treaty. The UK is also hosting an international arms fair this week—at the same venue that last year hosted a summit on preventing sexual violence in conflict. So the weapons flow one way and the refugees flow the other. Meanwhile, the profits continue for the “defence” industry in Europe, which is now seeking to capitalise on an expanding market in border control and surveillance.

It’s up to us to say enough. To stop the arms flows, to prevent war profiteering, to demand justice for victims and survivors of the violence. There are lots of ways to do this. In this newsletter we focus on just a few of those actions—stopping the arms trade, condemning the use of cluster munitions, and preventing the bombing of towns and cities.

In this issue:

Structural decisions for the Arms Trade Treaty made in Mexico

The first Conference of States Parties (CSP1) of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) met in Mexico from 24–27 August 2015. It took decisions on all of the issues before it, including the location and head of the Secretariat (which will be Geneva); management committee and budget issues; reporting templates; a programme of work for the intersessional period; and the bureau for CSP2. While most of these items are infrastructural and procedural, they do have implications for how effectively the Treaty might be implemented moving forward. On the question of transparency, unfortunately, states parties failed to meet real life needs, only taking note of inadequate provisional templates. For more information, check out Reaching Critical Will’s daily ATT Monitor, statements, and documents from the Conference.

CSP1 is over, but implementation of the Treaty is just beginning. Arms transfers are still continuing—transfers that states know will contribute to death, injury, rape, displacement, and other forms of violence against human beings and our shared environment. As we conduct intersessional work and turn our focus to implementation, we must all act upon the ATT not as a stand-alone instrument but as a piece of a much bigger whole. ATT implementation must be firmly situated in wider considerations of conflict prevention, resolution, and peacebuilding. The ATT could help prevent atrocities, protect human rights and dignity, reduce suffering, and save lives. But to do so effectively, states parties need to implement it with these goals in mind. Each and every transfer must be measured in the strictest way against the risks. Every state must think of the Treaty in the context of peace, justice, and human rights, not profits and political manipulation. If they were to do so, the arms trade would look substantially different than it does today. It most likely would not exist at all.

Condemning cluster bombs in Dubrovnik

Last week, the first Review Conference of the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) met in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Over the past year, the Cluster Munition Coalition found that cluster bombs were used in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Ukraine, and Sudan (also see The Guardian and The Intercept). The munitions being used in Yemen by Saudi Arabia came from the United States, which is not a party to the CCM. But, acting as its proxies, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom tried to prevent the Review Conference declaration from condemning any use of cluster munitions. The UK government refused to condemn the use of cluster bombs in Yemen. Demonstrating what UK-based NGO Article 36 described as “a callous disregard for the human suffering caused by these weapons,” the UK failed to even acknowledge their use by the Saudi-led coalition operating in Yemen. This is consistent with the UK’s history of failure to promote humanitarian principles when it comes to cluster munitions. Fortunately, humanity prevailed. The Dubrovnik Declaration, which condemns any use of cluster munitions by any actor, was adopted. The three dissenters, and Lithuania, expressed reservations, but were unable to prevent the rest of the CCM community from moving forward progressively. The Dubrovnik Action Plan reinforces that such condemnation is consistent with article 21 of the CCM.

Explosive weapons political commitment to be discussed in Vienna

Next week, Austria will host a meeting to commence discussions towards a political commitment to end the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. The UN Secretary-General called on states to support this initiative in his latest report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. Since 2009 he has consistently raised concerns about this humanitarian problem, and asked states to take action. The International Network on Explosive Weapons has also been advocating for a strong political commitment on this issue since 2011 and is working with governments to stop the bombing of towns and cities. WILPF will be at the meeting with other INEW members to bring testimony and information and to encourage states to act boldly to prevent humanitarian harm.

General Assembly debate and First Committee to begin soon

The high-level debate of the General Assembly begins on 28 September and its First Committee on disarmament and international security begins on 6 October. RCW will monitor both forums and advocate for strong positions on nuclear weapons, explosive weapons, killer robots, the arms trade, military spending, and much more. Find out more on our website and subscribe to receive the First Committee Monitor weekly during October. Also check out the latest edition of our First Committee briefing book to find out the latest on critical disarmament topics.

New publications

Gender-based violence and the Arms Trade Treaty

This new briefing paper aims to provide information on the links between gender-based violence (GBV) and the international arms trade and to highlight questions that will be relevant for risk assessments of weapon transfer decisions under the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Under the ATT it is illegal to transfer weapons if there is a risk that the weapons will be used to facilitate GBV. In practice, this means that those conducting risk assessment processes for the export and import of weapons will have to take into account legislative and normative factors around GBV in the recipient countries. Effective implementation of this provision will help prevent GBV. It will also help build understanding about risks and dangers in potential recipient countries and about the links between the international arms trade and GBV more broadly. This in turn will enable more effective protection of human rights and prevention of armed violence.

First Committee briefing book 2015

The General Assembly's work on disarmament is conducted through its First Committee. Governments often use this forum to articulate decades-old positions and table resolutions that change little in substance or result from year to year. The civil society organisations, coalitions, and campaigns participating most actively at First Committee have argued consistently that we can and must replace watered-down outcomes with alternative results that advance human security and social and economic justice. This briefing book provides a quick overview of the state of play on some of the most pressing issues that will be addressed at this year’s First Committee. It also outlines recommendations for governments from some of the key civil society groups working on these topics.

Upcoming Events

Conference on Disarmament 2015, Part Three
3 August–18 September 2015 | Geneva, Switzerland

Vienna meeting on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas
21–22 September 2015 | Vienna, Austria

International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons
26 September 2015

UN General Assembly high-level debate
28 September–6 October 2015 | New York, USA

Keep Space for Peace Week
3–6 October 2015

UN General Assembly First Committee
6 October–9 November 2015 | New York, USA

Featured News

Canada makes secret arms deal with Saudi Arabia

Ottawa is contractually obliged to keep secret the details of a controversial $15-billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia.

UK politicians divided over Trident

Chancellor George Osborne announced an extra ₤500 million of extra spending at the Trident submarine base in Faslane, Scotland, prompting Scotland’s first deputy minister to accuse him of making “the wrong moral choice” on nuclear weapons.

UK kills citizens with armed drones

The UK authorised drone strikes against a UK citizen in September and indicated it had more British nationals on its “kill list”. Human rights group Rights Watch has begun legal action to force the government to reveal the legal basis for this action.

Protestors take action against arms fair in UK

The 2015 Defence & Security Equipment International arms fair began on 15 September. Campaign Against the Arms Trade prevented armoured vehicles and trucks full of military hardware from getting into the arms fair during its week of action.

Recommended reading

Gender-based violence and the Arms Trade Treaty, Reaching Critical Will of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, August 2015

Refusal to condemn cluster munition use undermines UK claims to leadership on protection of civilians, Article 36, September 2015

Charlotte Alfred, “Bombs Made in U.S., Europe Turn Up On Yemen’s Battlefield,” The World Post, 24 July 2015

The Human Carnage of Saudi Arabia’s War in Yemen,” Amnesty International, 27 August 2015

Madeleine Rees, “The politics of human rights and the United Nations,” opendemocracy.net, 24 August 2015

Thalif Deen, “Despite Treaty, Conventional Arms Fuel Ongoing Conflicts,” Inter Press Service, 1 September 2015

Thalif Deen, “Western Double Standards on Deadly Cluster Bombs,” Inter Press Service, 9 September 2015