United Nations Adopts International Arms Trade Treaty

Washington D.C. – This morning, members of the United Nations General Assembly voted in favor of an International Arms Trade Treaty that will, for the first time, establish internationally agreed regulations for the $70 billion global trade in heavy weapons and small arms. Human Rights First welcomes this historic decision as a major victory for civilians around the world facing violent attacks, as well as for the genocide and mass atrocity prevention community.

“This is an historic moment. Governments have finally come together and made a commitment to prevent perpetrators of mass atrocities from legally securing the weapons they need to kill civilians,” said Human Rights First’s Sadia Hameed.  “This treaty is a game changer not just for states committing gross human rights abuses, but also for all those states who for many years have supplied weapons to perpetrators of mass atrocity without consequence. It makes it clear that arms transfers to countries committing mass atrocities, like the current Syrian regime for example, are no longer legal or acceptable under international law.”

The treaty text adopted today explicitly prohibits states from transferring conventional weapons if that state has knowledge at the time of authorization that the weapons would be used to attack civilians, commit genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes. Human Rights First notes that in addition, the inclusion of small and light arms in this treaty is especially welcome. The organization notes that the small and light arms trade has thus far remained the least transparent despite contributing significantly to civilian deaths in conflict zones.

For more than two years, the Assad regime has continued to benefit from the trade in weapons, ammunition, technical assistance and fuel necessary for the perpetration of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria. Human Rights First’s recently released report, The Enablers of the Syrian Conflict: How Targeting Third Parties Can Slow the Atrocities in Syria,  and the interactive website that accompanies it, provides the most comprehensive look to date at the Syrian regime’s complex network of third party “enablers.” The report noted that in the absence of a U.N arms embargo, twice vetoed by Russia, the transfer of weapons from Iran and Russia to the Syrian regime, though morally reprehensible, was deemed legal. Today, the Arms Trade Treaty changes that reality by setting in place an internationally agreed standard that explicitly prohibits such transfers.

“We are grateful for the relentless efforts of advocates around the world who fought tirelessly to champion this treaty and without whom today’s victory would not be possible,” observed Hameed. “We are especially thankful that the Unites States government supported this treaty and, in doing so, strongly demonstrated their commitment to choking off the supply of weapons that enable mass atrocities. Americans should take pride in knowing that their government is on the right side of history.”


Published on April 2, 2013


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