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From negotiation to implementation: Trials ahead for a global Arms Trade Treaty

21-05-2013 Feature

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people are injured, killed, or driven from their homes because of the poorly regulated trade in conventional weapons.

Trials ahead for a global ATT: A boy holds an Ak47 in Nassiriya, Iraq.

In some parts of the world, weapons are so easy to obtain that civilians face the same threats after a war is over as they do during it. The ICRC has been aware of the danger for some time now, and has put a lot of energy into pressing for an international treaty to regulate arms transfers. Earlier this year, those efforts were rewarded when the United Nations General Assembly adopted a global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).

The head of the ICRC Legal Division, Knut Doermann, travelled to London in April this year to share the organization’s perspective on both the ATT process and the challenges to its implementation. The treaty will not enter into force until 50 States have signed it, and Knut called for States to ratify it as soon as possible once it opens for signature on 3 June.

Click to download the report published by Chatham House after the event


The road to an ATT has been long and arduous. States have been discussing a treaty since 2006, but a first Diplomatic Conference in July 2012 failed. A second, convened in March 2013, saw nine days of intense negotiations, but ended without States reaching consensus on the text of the treaty. However, on 2 April, the UN General Assembly voted by a large margin to adopt the Treaty. This is a historic step, which has been welcomed by ICRC president Peter Maurer

Key points from the report

  • The ATT has a solid humanitarian basis. Its preamble refers explicitly to respecting and ensuring respect for international humanitarian law and human rights, as key principles. This is notable – and very welcome – because direct references to respect for IHL are rare in treaties other than the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I.
  • The treaty covers a broad range of conventional arms, but it is not comprehensive. It does not cover all conventional arms, and there is still debate as to whether hand grenades and armed drones come under the categories listed in the treaty.
  • While the treaty is not perfect, the ICRC trusts that progressive interpretations and good faith implementation will reduce the human cost of arms availability through stricter controls on arms transfers.