Arms Trade Treaty Consensus Blocked, But Success Only Delayed

By Susan Waltz and Nate Smith, Amnesty International USA’s Military, Security and Police Transfers Coordination Group

Yesterday, states that gathered to negotiate a text for an Arms Trade Treaty fell short of their goal. The rules of the negotiating conference required consensus on the text of the treaty, and this consensus was blocked by Iran, Syria and North Korea. This development need not be seen as a failure, however – as a delegate from the U.K. put it, this is only delayed success. Soon, the UN General Assembly will take up the treaty, likely in current form, and subject it to a majority vote. It will almost certainly pass this vote, at which point it will be open for signatures and ratification, and it will enter into force at the 50th ratification.

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Cautious Optimism for Final Arms Trade Treaty

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 Susan Waltz, Amnesty Board Member and Arms Trade Treaty specialist

We’re down to the wire with the Arms Trade Treaty negotiations.  The next 24 hours will determine if the world is at long last ready to agree on standards for the lawful international transfer of lethal weapons.    The League of Nations tried twice to put some humanitarian limits on arms deals, but both efforts collapsed.  This time it could be different…really.

Amnesty activists rally outside the White House in support of a strong Arms Trade Treaty.

Amnesty activists rally outside the White House in support of a strong Arms Trade Treaty.

A final draft of the treaty was released today, and there are good reasons for cautious optimism – with an emphasis on caution.  The final draft doesn’t contain everything we hoped for, but it’s a vast improvement over the version in play last July.   Among other things, the draft treaty now clarifies that it will be a breach of international law to supply weapons when the supplier knows at the time of authorization that they will be used for genocide, crimes against humanity, attacks against civilians and grave war crimes. Small but significant changes have edged the text closer to the Golden Rule we’ve been advocating for more than ten years:  “Governments must prevent arms transfers where there is a substantial risk that they are likely to be used for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.”

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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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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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