On 27 July 2012, the negotiating conference for the Arms Trade Treaty drew to a close without consensus on adopting a treaty. Despite the failure to adopt a robust and legally-binding treaty, WILPF was pleased that the final draft treaty text recognized gender-based violence in both the preambular and operative clauses. Throughout the ongoing debates, an historic number of UN Member States called for the inclusion of gender-based violence in the future Arms Trade Treaty. The term “gender-based violence” is widely recognized by the UN Security Council and General Assembly. It is imperative that this term be used, rather than a narrower reference to “violence against women,” as it recognizes the broader context and some of the fundamental root causes of the violence.
At the moment, it remains unclear what the next steps will be towards an Arms Trade Treaty. It is possible that a draft text could be presented to the General Assembly and adopted by two-thirds of Member States. As Member States consider this draft text, it is important to strengthen the criteria to ensure that exports are prohibited when there is a substantial risk that the arms will be used to commit or facilitate gender-based violence.
The preamble to the proposed treaty included, “Bearing in mind that women and children are particularly affected in situations of conflict and armed violence.” Further, in Article 4, which calls for a National Assessment prior to arms transfers, the treaty read:
6. Each State Party, when considering a proposed export of conventional arms under the scope of this Treaty, shall consider taking feasible measures, including joint actions with other States involved in the transfer to avoid the arms: [. . . ] b. being used to commit or facilitate gender-based violence or violence against children.
In addition to these specific references, Article 4 would have required that prior to authorization and transfer, the State Party must assess whether the proposed export could be used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of either international human rights law or international humanitarian law. In basic terms, the proposed treaty would prohibit the export of weapons when there is an overriding risk they would be used for human rights violations – arguably including the commission of gender-based violence – as well as taking measures to prevent weapons from being used to commit or facilitate gender-based violence after their transfer.
Although it was unclear at the beginning of negotiations whether gender criteria would be included, WILPF is pleased that it was included in both the preamble and in the criteria for national assessments. A record number of Member States have stood up for the importance of gender-based criteria in prohibiting arms trade, and with this support the UN has the potential to pass a strong treaty prohibiting transfers that would be used to commit gender-based violence. As the next steps are taken towards an Arms Trade Treaty, WILPF encourages Member States to continue to stand up for a robust treaty that will close potential loopholes and explicitly include gender-based violence in the criteria.