Switzerland became the 62nd country to ratify the Arms Trade Treaty on 30 January when Ambassador Paul Seger deposited their instrument of ratification at UN headquarters. Switzerland is the first state to ratify the ATT since it entered into force and became international law on Christmas Eve of last year. In a statement released by on the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, they are quoted as saying “This is in keeping with the country’s traditional role as an advocate for humanitarian concerns, in particular in regard to international humanitarian law and Switzerland’s active peace policy.”
Switzerland’s ratification is also significant given their status as a top-15 global arms exporter.
The Swiss government was among first countries to sign the treaty when it opened for signature in June of 2013, and is one of three countries also bidding to host the Secretariat of the ATT, alongside Trinidad and Tobago and Austria.
Germany has made a decision to halt all arms exports to Saudi Arabia, becoming the first major arms exporter to do so. In 2013, Germany sent more than US$400 million worth of arms to a country that has been widely criticized for serious violations of human rights. The current sentencing of blogger Raif Badawi to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes is but one recent example, even as many world leaders are describing Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, who passed away last week, as a reformer. German government sources have cited instability in the region as the basis for the halt while other outlets have stressed that Saudi Arabia’s human rights record may have also been influential in Germany’s decision. The risk of undermining peace and security and the risk of human rights violations are central to the Arms Trade Treaty’s risk assessment criteria for approving or denying arms transfers.
Roy Isbister of Saferworld welcomed Germany’s recent action saying, “Germany has made it clear that profits aren’t the only thing that should be considered when dealing weapons to oppressive regimes. Other major arms exporters that provide Saudi Arabia with everything from assault rifles and ammunition to fighter jets must follow Germany’s lead and stop these transfers immediately. The United Kingdom is a major source of these arms and should be the next in line to take action.”
Control Arms welcomes Germany’s decision to put a stop to arms exports with Saudi Arabia and urges other major exporters to follow suit. Last week, Control Arms also urged the United Kingdom to cease exports to Saudi Arabia, the biggest destination for British arms. Coalition members based in Canada have criticized the Canadian government, for its on-going arms transfers there.
The United Kingdom has come under pressure for their ongoing arms exports to Saudi Arabia, widely seen as a country with an exceptionally questionable reputation for respecting human rights. Control Arms coalition member Amnesty International has cited examples of excessive use of force, torture, and other serious areas of human rights concern in the country.
Saudi Arabia is the UK’s biggest destination for arms exports with the most recent available annual export totals (2013) amounting to over $2.2 billion. Despite being the top destination for UK arms exports, Saudi Arabia remains a “country of concern” on the Human Rights and Democracy Report published by the UK Foreign Office. By sending arms while acknowledging widespread human rights violations, the United Kingdom is acting at odds with the Arms Trade Treaty which entered into force on 24 December 2014.
Amnesty International UK Programme Director Oliver Sprague said, “for many years, Saudi has been UK’s largest arms customer, with Government reports year on year revealing billions of pounds worth of arms sales including fighter jets , armoured vehicles, small arms. ammunition and policing equipment including tear gas and components for water cannon. It is unclear how these arms sales are in anyway compatible with the UK’s obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty, a Treaty which now requires the UK to stop exporting weapons where this is a very real risk that those weapons could fuel serious human rights violations. The scale of such continued arms sales and the high levels of political support they appear to receive suggest that in these cases, the UK is putting profits before the human rights principles it so strongly championed within the ATT.”
As a major exporter, a champion of the development of the Arms Trade Treaty, and a State Party to the ATT, the United Kingdom has a unique opportunity to begin establishing the norm that the ATT will need to change the way the global arms trade works.
Control Arms welcomes the entry into force of Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) on 24 December. The rapidity with which this has occurred – only 21 months since the Treaty opened for signature – demonstrates the global political momentum and importance of this groundbreaking new instrument. The ATT is now international law, and 2015 heralds the chance for States to transform the way the arms trade operates, and help reduce armed violence and conflict.
Control Arms Director Anna Macdonald said: “Campaigners around the world have been fighting pushing for years for this to make this moment happen. This treaty is not just a piece of paper. If robustly implemented, we know it has the potential to save many lives and protect vulnerable civilians around the world.
The ATT will transform the way arms and ammunitions are traded around the world meaning there can be no doubt about who will be their end-user. It will no longer be acceptable to turn a blind eye and look the other way when arms are being transferred into the hands of regimes that will use them to devastate people’s lives and violate human rights.”
Several states have rushed to sign and ratify the treaty over the last two weeks. As of 24 December, there are a total number of 130 signatures and 61 ratifications. Ratifiers include many large arms exporters have ratified (France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK). Many countries who are heavily affected by armed violence and conflict have also joined such as as Liberia and Mali. Many of these countries played a leading role in the negotiations and pushed for strong Treaty language. This is an encouraging sign for the establishment of a strong global norm for the Treaty, which will be important in ensuring that the ATT has impact.
Kennedy Mabasa, a campaigner from South Africa, the most recent country to ratify said: “African campaigners have waited a long time for this moment. We have experienced first hand the devastation of an arms trade that is out of control, and we owe it now to the survivors of these weapons that we prevent future horrors and pains.”
With this milestone accomplished, work now focuses on Treaty implementation – especially the run up to the first Conference of States Parties (CSP). Two informal preparatory meetings have already been held to discuss the (CSP) and formal Preparatory meetings will now commence, starting in Trinidad and Tobago in February.
Control Arms calls on all States who have not yet done so to join the Treaty, and on existing signatories and ratifiers to ensure it robustly implemented immediately.
Multiple states are signing and ratifying the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) this week before it enters into force on 24 December. There are now 128 signatories and 61 ratifications.
Saint Kitts and Nevis, followed by Liechtenstein deposited their instruments of ratification at the UN last week. On Wednesday 17th, Poland became the 58th country to ratify. Ambassador Bogusław Winid deposited the instrument on behalf of his country stating that, “We are proud that Poland is among the co-founders of the ATT and that its provisions will become binding for us on 24 December. Poland hopes that the Treaty will help prevent serious violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law standards related to the reduction of suffering of the civilians in armed conflict. We hope that ATT will play an important role in the fight against international terrorism and organized crime. ”
Upon depositing Lithuania’s instrument of ratification on Thursday, December 17th, Ambassador Raimonda Murmokaitė said, “It is our firm belief that transparency in arms trade is indispensable if we are to achieve the key purpose of the ATT – reducing human suffering. We made this our priority during the negotiations and will continue to strongly advocate for shinning more light on arms trade, in particular, through public reporting and supporting civilian society led monitoring.” The Netherlands deposited on Thursday 18 December. Control Arms members there took the opportunity to congratulate their government and remind them that “words are not enough, now is time for action.”
Andorra, Israel, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, and Zimbabwe are among the newest signatories to the ATT. Once the Treaty enters into force it will no longer be possible for governments to sign and instead they will be required to accede, a two-step process. The Treaty’s entry into force is a significant milestone. Its provisions will now become legally binding. Occurring just eighteen months after it opened for signature means that the ATT is one of the fastest multilateral arms agreements to enter into force. Control Arms congratulates all governments who have signed and ratified the Treaty so far and looks forward to welcoming others.
Click here for more stories from the Control Arms campaign!
The United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs has just released a publication titled “Arms Trade Treaty: Signature and Ratification.” This brochure acts as a step by step guide that describes the procedures that States must follow in order to sign, ratify, accept, approve, or accede to the Arms Trade Treaty. Click here to read the full brochure.