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Arms Trade Treaty: A historic step towards reducing human suffering

02-04-2013 News Release

Geneva (ICRC) – The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) welcomes the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty. In a vote that took place today at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, a majority of States agreed to establish, for the first time, controls on international transfers of conventional weapons and ammunition.

"This is a historic moment and a worthy response to the widespread human suffering that results from the unregulated availability of weapons," said Peter Maurer, president of the ICRC. "The text now has to be implemented in good faith so as to positively affect the lives, health and well-being of millions of people around the world. If properly implemented, it will prevent arms transfers when there is a manifest risk that war crimes or serious violations of human rights will be committed."

The treaty adopted today sets legally binding rules to regulate international trade in conventional weapons and ammunition. It requires that States deny transfers when they are aware or where there is an overriding risk that those weapons and/or ammunition will be used to commit certain international crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. A key principle underpinning this requirement, and explicitly recognized in the text, is the duty of the States to respect and ensure respect for international humanitarian law.

A vast majority of States agreed to adopt the Arms Trade Treaty. The ICRC however acknowledges that a number of States did not vote in favour of the text. "We call on all States to join the treaty and further its humanitarian purpose," Mr Maurer said. "This will ultimately help protect people from wanton armed violence and reduce human suffering."

In most of the countries in which it works, the ICRC is confronted with the terrible consequences for civilians of inadequate controls over international transfers of conventional weapons. In 1999, the ICRC published a study commissioned by the States party to the Geneva Conventions showing that in many situations where weapons are widely available, civilians are at greater risk of death, injury, displacement and abuse. The widespread availability of weapons tends to prolong conflicts, facilitate violations of international humanitarian law, and put civilians at high risk of death or injury from weapons-related violence even after armed conflicts have ended.

For further information, please contact:
Claire Kaplun, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 33 55 or +41 79 244 64 63