Arms trade: the current situation

The global arms trade is approaching 100 billion USD annually. SIPRI recorded 58 countries as exporters of major weapons in 2011–15. The top five exporters during this period—the USA, Russia, China, Germany, and France—were responsible for almost 74 per cent of all arms exports. During the same period, 153 countries imported major weapons, with the top 5 recipients—India, Saudi Arabia, China, the UAE, and Australia—accounting for 34 per cent of the total arms imports.

Since the early 1990s, civil society has been actively campaigning for negotiation of a robust, comprehensive, legally-binding treaty to establish standards and restrictions on the international trade in conventional arms. After a seven year process at the United Nations, the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 2 April 2013, with the treaty entering into force on 24 December 2014. The ATT fills a gap and builds bridges between regulating the arms trade and enhancing human security. It provides a potentially useful tool to protect human beings and their rights by reducing and preventing armed conflict and armed violence.

A notable aspect of the ATT is that it 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. The ATT is also the first international treaty to recognise the link between the international arms trade and gender-based violence (GBV). Article 7(4) of the Treaty also prohibits exports that may be used to commit or facilitate serious acts of gender-based violence.

WILPF has consistently called for the Treaty to be more robust and comprehensive. Careful interpretation and implementation will be essential to avoid legitimising the international arms trade.

While the ATT covers the so-called legal arms trade, the illicit trade and proliferation of SALW also poses a grave danger to international security and stability and threatens the lives of millions around the world every year. Small Arms Survey highlights that arms trafficking fuels civil wars and regional conflicts; stocks the arsenals of terrorists, drug cartels, and other armed groups; and contributes to violent crime and the proliferation of sensitive technology.

The UN Programme of Action (UNPoA) provides the framework for activities to counter the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons. It was adopted by all UN member states in 2001. Since that time the UN has worked to support the implementation of the UNPoA at national, regional, and international levels.

Effective implementation of the ATT and UNPoA can help to prevent gender-based violence.


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