UK signs groundbreaking Arms Trade Treaty at UN ceremony

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Today the UK endorsed a pioneering new international law regulating weapons transfers by signing the Arms Trade Treaty at the UN in New York.

Joining 66 other states taking the first opportunity to sign the Treaty, the UK sent a clear message that the sale of arms to those intent on causing misery by fuelling rebellions, civil war or conflict is no longer acceptable and must be stopped.

Ben Donaldson, UNA-UK's Communications and Campaigns Officer, said:

“Today marks a huge achievement for the United Nations and a step forward in its mandate to protect the world's populations from the scourge of war.  We would like to thank our members and supporters for their tireless campaigning on this issue – it has all contributed to today’s momentous achievement. We now look forward to states ratifying the Treaty as soon as possible and implementing it to a high standard.”

Designed to reduce the devastating effect of armed violence – currently responsible for the deaths of more than 500,000 people a year worldwide – the Arms Trade Treaty is the first ever international law making it illegal for a state to authorise arms transfers where there is a significant risk that the arms will be used to commit human rights abuses or crimes against humanity.

The UK, a major arms exporter, was joined by many of the world’s other top exporters including Germany and France in singing the Treaty, alongside emerging exporters such as Brazil, Mexico and South Africa.  The US Government is also expected to sign later this year.

The Treaty will come into force 90 days after the 50th signatory state has completed the ratification process. UNA–UK is calling on states to prioritise signing and ratifying as soon as possible.

UNA-UK is a member of the Control Arms coalition, the global civil society network that spearheaded the decade-long campaign for this Treaty.

Click here to read about the next steps in UNA-UK’s Campaign for a strong Arms Trade Treaty

Correspondence from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

On 3 June, FCO Minister Alistair Burt responded to UNA-UK Chairman Sir Jeremy Greenstock’s letter regarding the implementation of the ATT. Minister Burt reiterated the UK government’s commitment to the swift ratification of the Treaty, and, responding to UNA-UK’s call for a strong UK interpretation of the Treaty, added “We share your aim of ensuring the highest standard of implementation by States Parties.” The Minister also stated that the UK “will be offering assistance and advice to others” in order to facilitate the broadest possible implementation of the ATT. 

Click here to read Minister Burt's letter to Sir Jeremy

By signing the Arms Trade Treaty states commit to:

  • Properly regulate all transfers of conventional arms, ammunition or parts and components;
  • Ban the export of conventional arms, ammunition, or parts and components where there is knowledge the weapons would be used to perpetrate war crimes, genocide, attacks against civilians, and other grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions;
  • Comprehensively asses the risk of any transfer to contribute to or undermine peace and security or to facilitate serious violations of international human rights or humanitarian law, terrorism, organised crime, gender-based violence or violence against women and children.
  • Take account the risk that arms might be re-directed from the original recipient to another user – known as “diversion”;
  • Submit annual reports on its international transfers and national implementation activities to the other States Parties, thereby improving transparency in the global arms trade.

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