by Gabriella Irsten, Reaching Critical Will of WILPF
As Ghana pointed out on 10 July, the arms trade treaty (ATT) is not a treaty like any other. It is not specifically or only a humanitarian treaty, a disarmament treaty, nor a trade treaty. While the views on what this treaty should cover differ between UN member states, we can surely say that many countries agree with Ghana's statement. The argument has been reiterated in different ways by several delegations, such as by the Italian Ambassador on 11 July, who stated that ending human suffering is the fundamental ethical goal of the ATT. In addition, referring back to the launch of this treaty, the UN General Assembly resolution A/RES/61/89, “Towards an arms trade treaty: establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms" stated that the ATT should recognize “that arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation are essential for the maintenance of international peace and security” and reaffirm “respect for international law, including international human rights law and international humanitarian law, and the Charter.”
Multilateral disarmament and arms control processes within the United Nations have long been operating in isolation from other UN organs. This has lead to some governments being sceptical about the relationship between these issues and human rights or international humanitarian law. Separating issues in this manner may make it logistically easier to work within the UN, but unfortunately this practice does not reflect the reality of human experience or the nature of international security.
In real life, problems of arms proliferation and human suffering are not isolated from one another. Therefore, the UN system needs to reflect this and build bridges between institutions in order to have appropriate tools to deal with modern human threats. As the South African delegation expressed during the first week of negotiations, “The ATT should be an international instrument that fills a glaring gap that currently exists in the global arms control system.” This objective should be extended: an ATT could fill a gap not only in the arms control system but in the whole UN system. The ATT has great potential to link arms control to human rights and establish an international instrument with an holistic approach to effectively deal with problems facing today’s world. The ATT is a great opportunity to build a new modern treaty that respond to challenges to human security. The isolation of issues, as we have seen it in international fora, is no longer enough in today’s complex, globalized world.
A robust ATT could operate as a preventative tool against conflict and human suffering. Most existing instruments deal with conflict and suffering after it occurs, but real protection can only be realized through prevention.
The question is whether governments want to take their responsibilities of preventing conflict and protecting their citizens seriously and if they are willing to make changes to their international behaviour that will improve people’s lives. Today we are struggling to end poverty, armed violence, and other injustices. All these issues are intertwined and we therefore need a solution that will take all of them into consideration. They all have a strong direct and indirect links to the spread of arms. Scare resources are being used to buy weapons instead of being spent on poverty reduction and on fulfilling social and economic rights. Today warfare is no longer being fought on the frontline by armies; it is taking place within countries and communities, meaning that the spread of weapons has a direct link to the increase of civilian deaths. The excessive number of weapons in circulation around the world makes it easier for actors to use them to violate other human’s rights, lives, and dignity, both within conflicts and private homes. If the ATT does not include aspects of international human rights law, international humanitarian law, and gender-based violence as criteria for regulating arms transfers, the international community will lose the chance to build and treaty that is truly relevant for today’s threats.