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ICRC position on goals and objectives of an Arms Trade Treaty

13-07-2009 Statement

ICRC statement on goals and objectives of an arms trade treaty, open-ended working group towards an Arms Trade Treaty, New York, 13 July 2009

When the International Committee of the Red Cross looks at the goals and objectives of an Arms Trade Treaty they could be described in two phrases : « human health » and « the rule of law ».

As regards « human health » we already have international treaties that protect health by regulating, for example, the trade in such products as hazardous chemicals and pharmaceutical drugs in accordance with international standards. Weapons are, by definition, probably the only legal product that is explicitly designed to have a negative impact on human health. The lack of regulation of trade in this field should be considered an unfortunate anomaly in the international legal system. A key objective then must be to protect human health and dignity by ensuring that the product we are speaking of is only available to those who use it in accordance with existing law, including international humanitarian law.

As regards the second phrase « the rule of law », it is important to recognise that the entire fabric of law, and of international humanitarian law in particular, is based on the assumption that the users of weapons are trained, disciplined and actually use their arms in accordance with the law. If this is not the case, as occurs when availability of weapons is widespread or transfers remain uncontrolled, then it is unrealistic, to say the least, to expect that the law will be respected. All the efforts of States parties to the Geneva Conventions and of the ICRC to ensure respect for international humanitarian law are undermined by unregulated access to weapons.

Mr. Chairman, we hea rd earlier today about the perilous waters this process and this Working Group must find its way through. However, the ICRC is witness each day in the communities in which we work to the even more perilous dangers faced by children, families and communities as a result of unregulated access to arms and ammunition. These dangers include having their homes bombarded through long days and nights with mortar and artillery shells, being shot for being members of the « wrong » ethnic group, being raped at gunpoint and being forcibly recruited into armed groups. These are the dangers that an ATT, and this Working Group, need to address and try to eliminate. The international laws and norms that prohibit these acts are the norms that an ATT must seek to uphold, strengthen and defend. These are the lives for whom an ATT can make a difference. These are also the types of dangers the UN Secretary General identified in his 29 May report to the Security Council on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. These threats to civilians are unacceptable, yet are increasing. They are threats for which an ATT can make a difference.

This is why an ATT is necessary. It is why this Working Group and its follow-up process need to develop a strong, comprehensive and effective ATT. Such a Treaty should reinforce similar efforts at regional level, inspire them where they do not yet exist and make existing regional and national efforts more effective by promoting coherent and complementary action.

Mr. Chairman we thank you for your guidance of this important effort and wish you every success.