What is the Diplomatic Conference about?Since 2006, the United Nations General Assembly has acknowledged on numerous occasions that the absence of uniform international standards for transferring conventional weapons contributes to armed conflict, displacement, crime and terrorism, which, in turn, undermine peace, reconciliation, safety, security, stability and sustainable social and economic development. In January 2010, the UN General Assembly decided to convene the UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty in 2012 to elaborate a legally binding treaty containing the highest possible common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms. These negotiations will take place between 2-27 July in New York. There is now broad-based support for the adoption of a treaty that would establish strict standards for the transfer of all conventional weapons.
Why is the ICRC interested in arms transfer controls?The ICRC has worked in many armed conflicts and violent contexts around the world for the last 150 years. In most of the countries in which it works, the ICRC is confronted with the terrible consequences for civilians of insufficient control over international transfers of conventional weapons. In 1999, the ICRC published a study conducted at the request of States party to the Geneva Conventions (Arms availability and the situation of civilians in armed conflict). It showed that in many contexts where weapons are widely available, civilians face a similar risk of being wounded or killed in weapons-related violence after armed conflicts have ended as they did during them. As long as weapons are too easily available, they will be misused, lives will be lost, serious violations of international humanitarian law will be facilitated, and medical and humanitarian assistance will be endangered. Since the late 1990s, the ICRC has called for stricter regulation of international transfers of arms and ammunition as a means to reduce the widespread human suffering resulting from the unregulated availability and misuse of weapons. The ICRC has sought to contribute to the development of an ATT that will provide the strongest possible protection of civilians and humanitarian action.
How can the ATT help prevent violations of international humanitarian law?Under the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, all States have an obligation to ensure respect for international humanitarian law (IHL). This entails a responsibility to make every effort to ensure that the arms and ammunition they transfer do not end up in the hands of persons who may be expected to use them in violation of IHL. This principle was supported by States in resolutions adopted by International Conferences of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 2003, 2007 and 2011. The ATT should reflect all States’ obligation to ensure respect for IHL by requiring that they:
- assess the likelihood that serious violations of IHL will be committed with the weapons being transferred, and
- do not authorize transfers when there is a clear risk that the arms will be used to commit serious violations of IHL.