Arms control and a to-do list for people and the planet
April 10, 2017

Hospitals bombed. Schools used as military bases. Livelihoods in tatters and economies in ruins. Vital resources that could be spent on life-saving services wasted on an endless cycle of armed violence. The proliferation of arms and ammunition drastically undermines and hinders sustainable development efforts.

The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the two landmark international agreements of recent years, and last week governments agreed to gather in Geneva later this year to discuss how to link the two to achieve the greatest possible success.

Between 11 and 15 September 2017, more than 90 members of the ATT will gather in Geneva at an annual conference, where they will assess the impact of the Treaty around the world. This year, this conference will include a special thematic focus on how practical efforts to implement the ATT can help states to achieve progress towards the overarching Sustainable Development Goals (otherwise known as ‘the Global Goals’.)

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Just looking at recent warnings of famine in South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen is an illustration of how deeply interlinked armed violence is with sustainable development. Yemen for example, already one of the world’s poorest countries, has suffered a devastating conflict in the last two year. This conflict has been fuelled by the supply of arms and ammunition, mainly to members of the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition, but also through smuggling sources to Houthi rebel forces. All parties to the conflict have committed violations of international law and human rights, and Yemen now faces a desperate humanitarian crisis. More than 80 per cent of the population is facing starvation, and more than 450,000 children under the age of five are suffering from severe acute malnutrition. With hundreds of health facilities damaged by the bombing and fighting, almost 15 million people lack access to basic healthcare.

“There can be no peace without development, no development without peace,” the Ambassador of Sierra Leone to the UN in Geneva told governments this week. “We say that, but we do not translate it into action as seriously as we should. This would be a noble cause [to bring the ATT and the SDGs together].”

The ATT’s goal is to reduce human suffering, like the terrible hunger and pain of the people of Yemen, through setting up the highest possible standards of international arms control. Under the ATT, weapons should not be sold where there is a risk that they could contribute to a range of negative consequences, including gender-based violence. This links directly to one of the 69 separate targets set to achieve the SDGs. (Target 5.2, which seeks to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls).

The ATT also requires governments to set up strong, transparent national arms control systems, and undertake measures to prevent weapons and ammunition from ending up being lost, seized or stolen. If governments were to fully implement the provisions laid out in the ATT, it would go a long way to realising Goal 16, which calls for peaceful and inclusive societies. Within Goal 16, there are several key targets that the ATT will directly affect:

  • Goal 16.1 (Significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere)
  • Goal 16.4 (Significantly reduce illicit financial and arms flows)
  • Goal 16.5 (Substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all their forms)

Control Arms has produced a short briefing paper that outlines some of the areas where the ATT and SDGs are interlinked.

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During discussions last week governments demonstrated their commitment to identify a range of practical actions that they can undertake to help to realise the Global Goals through better ATT implementation. As Sweden told the meeting, “the impact of armed conflict and violence is so broad that hardly any aspect of the SDGs are left untouched.”

“We have reached a defining moment in human history,” said then-UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the summit to adopt the SDGs in 2015. “We need action from everyone, everywhere [The Goals are] a to-do list for people and planet, and a blueprint for success.”

 The ATT can be an effective and critical tool to help governments to achieve this ambitious to-do list.