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100 ratifications of the Arms Trade Treaty: Celebration and reflection

Law and Conflict / Weapons 5 mins read

100 ratifications of the Arms Trade Treaty: Celebration and reflection
As Director of International Law and Policy, I have the privilege of regularly representing the ICRC at the United Nations and other diplomatic events. When I do, the topics and speeches are interesting and at times even inspiring. But the most recent event I attended last week really had a different depth of emotion. We celebrated one hundred ratifications of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), welcoming Mozambique as the 100th State Party. I had the honour of speaking on the panel with the Ambassador of Mozambique, and could feel not only his pride, but also his genuine commitment to promoting this important treaty. The ICRC played a significant role in the negotiations of the ATT, and I am so pleased to see this major milestone of its 100th ratification. Mozambique has joined the ranks of States who have committed to placing humanitarian interests at the forefront of responsible arms transfer decisions. And, in doing so, they have committed to reducing the devastating and irreparable suffering caused by conflict and violence. The 100 States Party to the Treaty are joined in support of a principled, rules-based order for international arms transfers—painstakingly developed by States over years of multilateral negotiations.

Arms availability and the role of the ATT

The ATT seeks to address the human suffering caused by insufficient controls over transfers of conventional weapons. As identified in a comprehensive study undertaken by the ICRC two decades ago, the proliferation of arms and ammunition facilitates violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) and of human rights law. Unchecked availability fuels a never-ending spiral of violence that leads to protracted armed conflicts.

The ATT establishes a global norm for responsible arms transfers. The Treaty requires States Parties to consider respect for IHL and human rights law in their arms transfer decisions and to take measures to prevent the diversion of weapons. In doing so, this Treaty will help to ensure that arms do not end up in the hands of those who would use them to commit war crimes, serious violations of human rights, including serious acts of gender-based violence and violence against women and children. Although the ATT has been in force for less than five years, the number of States that have committed to the treaty is impressive—the 100 States Parties and 35 signatories represent more than 70% of the world’s largest exporters and more than half of the largest importers.

Looking ahead: Striving for the highest standards of implementation

Despite the enormous step forward represented by the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty nearly six years ago, more work remains. The ICRC is concerned by what we see as a gap between States’ absolute commitments to IHL and human rights—in the Treaty and elsewhere—and the transfer practices of too many States. In order to ensure that this still-young Treaty is effective, States Parties must strive for the highest standards of implementation.

The Treaty must be seen to work—not just on paper, but on the ground where it matters most. The positive impact of the ATT relies on Parties’ application of its standards in good faith, consistently, objectively and systematically throughout the decision-making process, including at the highest levels of decision-making and oversight.

The humanitarian objective of the Treaty—reflected in its Preamble—is brought to life by the requirement that States Parties must put long-term interests of civilian protection and peace and security ahead of short-term economic considerations. Arms transfer decisions must be underpinned by rigorous analysis. All the knock-on effects that violations of IHL and human rights have on increasing and perpetuating cycles of violence and insecurity at national, regional and global levels must be borne in mind.

The potency of the Treaty—as well as national measures aimed at its implementation—is amplified by the open exchange of information and practices among all actors involved in the arms transfer chain. Transparency is instrumental in building confidence in the regime built by the Treaty and vital to its credibility. The measures laid down in the Treaty—including on preventing and addressing diversion—can only work if all States involved in the arms transfer chain share information, notably through effective record-keeping and reporting. While reporting levels are at a gratifying 60%, more effort is required to achieve the objective of transparency set by the Treaty. Submitting these reports and making them public will help to improve arms transfer practices across the board, and—ultimately—will encourage more States to adhere to the Treaty.

Concluding thoughts

The Arms Trade Treaty holds out the promise of saved lives, unhindered delivery of medical and humanitarian assistance and strengthened compliance with IHL and human rights. The great surge of support attained by the ATT immediately following its adoption has become a steady stream, and each new ratification or accession helps to stem the flow of arms and ammunition into the wrong hands. I am delighted to welcome the 100th ratification of the Treaty. But we still have a long way to go on the implementation and we must not stumble at the final hurdle. My colleagues at the ICRC stand ready to support Mozambique—and all States Parties—as they work to fulfil this promise.


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