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Arms Trade Treaty

Arms Trade Treaty enters into force

UN Photo

On the 23rd December 2014 the Arms Trade Treaty entered into force - heralding a new chapter in collective efforts to bring responsibility, accountability and transparency to the global arms trade. As of 23 December, 60 States had ratified the treaty, and 130 had signed it, indicating that they intended to ratify.

“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 in December 2014.

The ATT is the first global agreement to regulate the $85bn annual trade in arms and ammunition. Heavy scrutiny will now be placed on the source of weapons being used in conflicts around the globe, for example in South Sudan, Syria, Iraq and Israel/Palestine. Now that the treaty has entered into force, the next major challenge will be to ensure the treaty – which sets new international law ‐ is implemented robustly.Last year hundreds of Act for Peace supporters added their voices to the global campaign, signing a petition calling for the Australian Government to advocate for a strong, effective treaty. 

We have been strongly advocating for a Treaty for several years, meeting with our political leaders to discuss the issues, joining public rallies to pressure our government into action and being an active member of a global coalition calling for a strong and effective Treaty. The ATT will help control the trade of dangerous arms around the world and allow for investigation into the supply of arms including to Islamic State (IS) fighters. 

Civilians have been paying too high a price for the lack of global arms controls which have permitted arms and ammunition to be legally transferred into the hands of dictators and warlords. But the game is up now – those days are over. Now governments have the chance to change the arms trade for good, and if rigorously implemented this treaty will save lives. Every day, up to 2000 people are killed by armed violence and millions more live in fear of rape, assault and displacement caused by weapons getting into the wrong hands.
- Alistair Gee, Executive Director of Act for Peace, 

The ATT is the first global agreement to regulate the $85bn annual trade in arms and ammunition. Heavy scrutiny will now be placed on the source of weapons being used in conflicts around the globe, for example in South Sudan, Syria, Iraq and Israel/Palestine. Once the treaty enters into force, the next major challenge will be to ensure the treaty – which sets new international law ‐ is implemented robustly.

The Arms Trade Treaty: What is it, and why is it important?

The ATT is the world’s first legally-binding international treaty, aimed at bringing the arms trade under control. States are obliged to put in place effective and responsible controls on all international transfers or conventional arms, ammunition, parts, and components.

The ATT is vitally important for three main reasons:

  1. It is the first and only international agreement to regulate the global arms trade;
  2. Under the treaty, States are forbidden from continuing the unchecked international sale and transfer of weapons and ammunition;
  3. Every minute, one person is killed by armed violence – a violence that is fuelled by the unregulated global arms trade. This amounts to over 500,000 people killed each year across the globe, with many more being injured, raped, displaced, and living in constant fear of armed violence.

What conventional arms and ammunition will the ATT cover?  

The ATT will cover the transfer of the following:

  • Battle tanks;
  • Armoured combat vehicles;
  • Large-calibre artillery systems;
  • Combat aircraft;
  • Attack helicopters;
  • Warships;
  • Missiles and missile launchers; and
  • Small arms and light weapons.

Additionally, the ATT will ensure that States Parties – countries that have ratified or acceded to the treaty – carefully regulate the export of ammunition and munitions.

What restrictions will the ATT place on nations?

In signing the ATT, nations are committed to:

  • Producing a national control register of all weapons covered by the ATT.
  • Assessing the risks of the misuse of such arms against a list of criteria, centred on international human rights and humanitarian law - in the case where the risk is high, authorization will be denied.
  • Banning the export of weapons where there is clear knowledge that they will be used to perpetrate war crimes, genocide, attacks against civilians, and other breaches of the Geneva Conventions.
  • Assessing the risk of any transfer contributing to or undermining peace and security, or facilitating serious violations of international human rights, or humanitarian law, terrorism, or organised crime.
  • Considering the potential risk of weapons being re-directed from the named end-user to another user.
  • Submitting annual reports on international transfers and national implementation activities, thereby improving transparency in the global arms trade.

Will the treaty really make a difference to those on the ground?

Implemented effectively, the ATT has the power to significantly reduce the supply of weapons into the hands of those who use them in committing human rights abuses.
When arms are being transferred across borders, governments will have to carefully consider how the weapons being traded will end up being used. Nations who are importing weapons are then forced to prove that they are using the weapons for legitimate purposes – that is, nothing which breaches international humanitarian and human rights law. When enforced correctly, the ATT will prevent the illegal importation of weapons into nations plagued by violent insurgencies or gang crime. In this way, the ATT possesses the potential to save many lives. Abusive state forces, armed gangs, warlords, pirates, and any group which violently oppresses people and communities will now find it much harder to obtain weapons which give them such power.

Though it won’t eradicate all armed violence around the globe, the ATT is an incredibly important step toward gaining more control over the global arms trade, making it more transparent, and ultimately reducing the impact that armed violence has on millions around the globe.

Won’t the ATT just increase the amount of weapons sold on the black market?

No, the ATT should ultimately reduce the amount of illegal weapons being sold through the black market. This is because the majority of weapons that end up in the black market originate in the legal trade. Therefore, the most effective way to tackle the black market is through regulating the legal trade of weapons. Additionally, it will be much easier to identify the sources of weapons entering the black market, and to remove the routes by which weapons move from the legal to illegal. Controls over brokering will also reduce and eventually eliminate brokers who currently operate through loopholes in current national regulations, who are responsible for much of the suffering caused by the illegal arms trade.

How will the ATT help stop nations – like Syria – in obtaining weapons to use against their own populations?

Despite worldwide condemnation, nations like Syria continue to commit human rights abuses against their own people. Further, the weapons that enable these horrific abuses continue to be supplied. Though the ATT cannot guarantee an end to worldwide armed violence, it can do much to prevent future situations – like those in Syria – happening again in the future. Implemented effectively, there should be no transfer of weapons which will likely be used in a way which violates international law. Thus, a nation considering exporting weapons to Syria would conclude that there is a high risk that the transfer would violate the criteria of the ATT. By law, the exporting nation would then be required to reject the transfer of those weapons, and arms would not legally enter into Syria.

How will the ATT prevent Israeli bombings of Gaza?

Under the requirements of the ATT, any nation considering exporting weapons to Israel will need to ask serious questions about how such weapons will be used before exporting them. If there is a substantial risk of those weapons being used in human rights abuses, then the transfer will be prohibited from taking place. The application of ATT criteria may significantly reduce the amount of weapons imported by Israel, and subsequently those used in their military operations.

How will this effect arms transfers to Hamas and other Palestinian groups?

The same rules which apply to Israel will also apply to Hamas and other Palestinian groups. All arms transfers will be conducted according to ATT criteria. The firing of rockets into civilian areas in Israel breaches international humanitarian law, and thus any risk of this reoccurring would result in a prohibition of weapons being supplied. However, it is hard to determine exactly who is supplying Hamas with arms. Regardless, once the ATT enters into force it will become binding international law, meaning that such rules will apply to any transfers happening across the world (including those who voted against the adoption of the ATT).

How will the treaty affect a nation’s legitimate right to defend itself?

In the ATT, it explicitly recognises the right of nations to self-defence. Thus, it will not prevent them from legitimately obtaining weapons for security and defence forces.