Today, governments adopted the text of the first ever Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) at the United Nations in New York. The treaty, which prohibits the sale of arms if there is a risk that the weapons could be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law, is the first ever treaty that recognizes the link between gender-based violence and the international arms trade.
The Arms Trade Treaty text was adopted in the General Assembly with a vote of 154 in favor, 3 against, and 23 abstentions. The final UN negotiating conference failed to adopt the text by consensus on 28 March due to objections from Iran, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and Syria. In response, over 100 countries cosponsored a draft General Assembly resolution calling for the adoption of the treaty text, which was successfully adopted on 2 April.
The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) welcomes the adoption of the treaty as a first step towards regulating international transfers of arms. However, the organization cautions that the treaty not sufficiently robust or comprehensive. The risk of legitimizing the international arms trade, especially irresponsible transfers, must be avoided through careful interpretation and implementation.
WILPF ran a campaign during the ATT process to make prevention of gender-based violence legally binding in the treaty. Throughout the process, WILPF has pushed for recognition of the link between weapons and gender-based violence. With this final text, WILPF's calls have been respected. The strengthening of the preventing GBV criterion was supported by over 101 delegations, a historic number of states. This happened because of the strong mobilisation and campaigning done by civil society, and our work around "Make it binding" really gave concrete results. WILPF is already is planning on how to hold governments accountable to the commitments in the future. So Join us. Support us. Work with us. Together, we have made a difference today and we should
continue our work to make sure that arms sales are stopped when there's a risk of gender-based violence.
“Weapons increase the risk of gender-based violence, including sexual violence, and impede women's political participation around the world. The Treaty's explicit provision on gender-based violence not only recognizes the links between such violence and the arms trade, but makes it illegal to transfer weapons if there is a risk, for example, that the weapons will be used to facilitate rape,” said Ray Acheson, the head of WILPF's Arms Trade Treaty work.
While the adopted ATT text is stronger than previous drafts, it still contains substantial limitations and loopholes. As the treaty was negotiated between all countries in the world under the rule of consensus, the treaty's scope is narrow, providing only for consideration of a limited number of weapon systems. Its provisions covering ammunition, munitions, parts, and components are not comprehensive and it does not legally mandate states to increase transparency in the international arms trade. The treaty does not address concerns that major exporters themselves sometimes use arms to engage in violations of human rights or crimes of aggression.
However, the ATT text is only a starting point. Madeleine Rees, Secretary-General of WILPF says:“The ATT process has shown a significant international mobilization against the negative
humanitarian and human rights impacts of the international arms trade. Now, we must implement it with the strongest possible interpretation in order to do what the treaty first set out to do, reduce human suffering.”