Behind the Scenes at the UN Arms Trade Treaty Conference

This post is part of a special series on the Arms Trade Treaty. From March 18-28, world leaders from more than 150 countries are gathering for the UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in New York. An Amnesty International delegation with representatives from every world region is participating and will be pressing leaders to agree to a strong treaty that upholds international human rights law.

By Alberto Estévez, Advocacy Coordinator on the Arms Trade Treaty, International Secretariat of Amnesty International

It’s crunch time for human rights.

On Friday evening, the second draft of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) was made public in the midst of the UN Final Conference on the ATT. The negotiations continued Monday and Tuesday and the final text will be made public sometime today.

The key issue for Amnesty International is whether the Treaty will have a preventive approach to prohibit an arms transfer when the State authorizing it knows that they will be used to commit atrocities. In legal jargon, this means whether it will prevent human rights violations constituting crimes under international law, i.e., extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and torture. This is what we in Amnesty International call the “Golden Rule.”

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Save Children’s Lives by Stopping Illicit Weapons Worldwide

Emmanuel Jal is a hip-hop artist and humanitarian, as well as a former child solider.

Emmanuel Jal is a hip-hop artist and humanitarian, as well as a former child solider.

Below is an open letter from hip-hop artist, activist and former child soldier Emmanuel Jal, urging President Barack Obama to push for a strong Arms Trade Treaty at the U.N. conference this month. This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

In Sudan and around the world, children are forced into warfare. Many end up as child soldiers, forced to take lives and continue the cycle of violence that they have been born into. Child soldiers are found today in as many as 20 countries.

I was one of them. I was fortunate enough to have escaped to Kenya and found another life through music. But the lives of many children are cut short before they can escape. The most difficult part of this situation is that these children do not have a choice when they are introduced, often after they have been orphaned, to a perpetual war zone and raised by the harsh reality of the violence around them.

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The World’s Biggest Gun Show

National Resistance Army child soldier poses with his kalashnikov.  (Photo credit: Dominique Aubert/AFP/Getty Images)

National Resistance Army child soldier poses with his kalashnikov. (Photo credit: Dominique Aubert/AFP/Getty Images)

The International Defense Exhibition and Conference (IDEX), which concluded last week in Abu Dhabi, bills itself as one of the biggest arms bazaars in the world. However, among the more than 1,100 companies exhibiting at IDEX were manufacturers whose products have made it a lot easier for bad guys to wreak havoc. There are currently no global checks in place to keep guns out of the wrong hands

From March 18-28, states will convene at the United Nations in New York to finalize a historic Arms Trade Treaty. We must make it clear that no more weapons can fall through gaping loopholes and into dangerous hands.

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Child Soldiers: Will the Real Obama Please Stand Up?

Child soldier with adults, Sanghe, Democratic Republic of Congo, June 2002.

Child soldier with adults, Sanghe, Democratic Republic of Congo, June 2002.

By Angela T. Chang, Advocate, Crisis Prevention and Response Team, Amnesty International USA

When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed — that’s slavery. When a little girl is sold by her impoverished family—girls my daughters’ age—runs away from home, or is lured by the false promises of a better life, and then imprisoned in a brothel and tortured if she resists — that’s slavery. It is barbaric, and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world.
– US President Barack Obama, September 2012

Despite these strong words by President Obama against the use and recruitment of child soldiers a few months ago, he got reprimanded earlier this week for falling flat in delivering on tangible actions to address this issue.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child released a new report on Tuesday, calling out the U.S. and the Obama administration for failing to adhere to its international human rights obligations by continuing to waive sanctions on military assistance, per the 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act, to countries that are known to recruit and use child soldiers – a clear violation of children’s rights and a war crime if the children are under the age of fifteen. Yes, you read that right. Seems confusing and backwards? That’s because it is.

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Mali, Algeria and the Arms Trade Treaty: A Parable for US Security?

© YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images

© YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Could the NRA’s opposition to an arms trade treaty have consequences for US security?

There are many confusing messages coming from the National Rifle Association with regard to the effort to forge a global arms trade treaty. The NRA poo-poos arguments that point to the incredible human suffering the unregulated global arms trade is causing, including the thousands of children who are forced to become soldiers. The NRA also continues to deliberately and falsely claim that the treaty will undermine gun rights in the United States, in spite of the fact that the draft treaty text from the July United Nations conference reiterates that the treaty’s ambit is the arms trade between nations, not within them.

Underpinning the NRA’s view of the treaty and the world is that any effort to restrict small arms and conventional weapons is bad, as it undermines individual security, which can only be safeguarded by arming the “good guys.” If this is the case, then what does the NRA have to say about the recent events that transpired in Algeria and are still unfolding in Mali?

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The Children Left Out of Obama’s Inaugural Speech

Photo by Dominique Aubert/AFP/Getty Images

Photo by Dominique Aubert/AFP/Getty Images

The United States is not the only country where children are facing an epidemic of gun violence. While in the U.S., we continue to grapple with the tragic reality of children who routinely face gun violence in their communities and children who increasingly are the targets of mass shootings, in other places around the world, we see the heartbreaking consequences of children who also face the daily horrors of armed conflict, many forced to become soldiers.

During Monday’s inaugural address, President Obama said:

“Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.”

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Women Need a Strong Arms Trade Treaty

The following post is by Alice Dahle, a member of Amnesty International USA’s Women’s Human Rights Co-group.

In an interview with an Amnesty International researcher last year, a female survivor of armed violence in the Cote d’Ivoire told her story.

“On Saturday [18 December 2010] they took me and five other women into a room. It was in the morning. There were three of them. They told us to undress. I refused. One of them hit me with his knife. I told him it was not human. He said: ‘We will see about that’. He took his gun out and I was obliged to yield.”

The threat from a knife might have been challenged, but the use of a firearm made the situation non-negotiable and prevented five women from protecting themselves.

Tragically, this is not an isolated case. It could also be taking place in Syria or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While the great majority of gun owners around the world are men, women and girls are disproportionately affected by gun violence. All too often, having a gun empowers and emboldens the individual holding the weapon to take advantage of those perceived as easy targets. Discrimination against women and girls, and their unequal status and power in many societies, make them more vulnerable and easy targets for an armed aggressor. Even when armed conflict is officially over, the culture of violence and the presence of surplus guns result in continued gender-based violence in homes and communities.

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Another Year Lost for the Lives and Dignity of Congo’s Women

Rape survivors awaiting surgery, Panzi hospital, Bukavu, South-Kivu province. Copyright Amnesty International

Three years ago when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton took the unprecedented step of travelling to the Eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to meet with rape survivors of the country’s brutal conflict, I was elated and hopeful. Elated because Secretary Clinton was doing something that had never been done before—sending the message that sexual violence is just as high on America’s foreign policy agenda as trade or traditional capital-to-capital diplomacy, and that the dignity and needs of survivors are a particular priority. Hopeful because I thought it meant perhaps three years later we would see some real change for women in that unending war.

I was wrong.

Tens of thousands of civilians have this very week been displaced following the fall of Goma, a city in Congo’s war-torn east, to the armed group M23, worsening an already dire human rights situation.  Since only April of this year, fighting between the Congolese army and the M23 armed group has displaced 226,000 people in North Kivu province, and 60,000 refugees have fled to Uganda and Rwanda. As with the many other chapters in what’s become known as Africa’s world war, sexual violence has been a trademark of the recent fighting. Amnesty International has documented numerous crimes under international law and other human rights violations committed in the course of fighting between M23 and the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) army in recent months.

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No More ‘Ships of Shame’ to Africa

By Alaphia Zoyab, Online Communities Officer at Amnesty International.

UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran

At a meeting with NGOs on the side-lines of the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) negotiations in New York, China made the claim that it does not transfer arms to conflict states in Africa. That claim is simply not true and China has clearly forgotten about the notorious ‘Ship of Shame’. We are happy to remind them.

In 2008 a Chinese ship MV An Yue Jiang arrived in Durban in South Africa with a deadly cargo of more than 3000 cases of arms. The cases included nearly 3 million rounds of rifle ammunition, rocket-propelled grenades, mortar bombs and mortar launchers, all exported by Poly Technologies Inc. of Beijing. This cargo was destined for the Zimbabwean Defence Force.

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Arms Transfers: States Love Secrets, But We Want the Facts

By Alaphia Zoyab, an Online Communications Officer from Amnesty’s International Secretariat.

All governments say they want to stop the flow of illicit arms, but listening to many of them at the UN today, it became clear that not many are willing to do anything about it.

This is because it will involve much greater transparency on how they report on arms transfers and this immediately makes governments uncomfortable.

Amnesty International’s findings show that the biggest source of illegal arms is through diversions from legal stockpiles and authorised trade. However, because current reporting by governments on imports, exports and arms transfers is so poor, it is near impossible to establish where and how deadly weapons are getting diverted.

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