Failure to manage arms trade responsibly is putting a dirt cheap price on the lives of civilians

11 September 2017

Geneva (ICRC) -Speaking at the opening of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) Conference in Geneva, ICRC President Peter Maurer issued a stark reminder to States about the impact arms flows are having on societies around the globe.

"Arms transfers are at their highest levels since the end of the Cold War," said President Maurer. "Arms continue to flow – overtly and covertly –to belligerents and violent extremism in parts of the Middle East, Africa and Asia, and feed organized crime in the Americas."

"Recently, in Yemen I saw how the war is eroding almost every aspect of people's lives. The arms trade is rife and continues to flow despite repeated violations of international humanitarian law. Public services have been bombed, the health system is on its knees, and an unprecedented cholera epidemic has broken out. I met mothers forced to make impossible decisions about whether to buy food or expensive medicines for their families."

In his speech at the opening High Level Segment of the ATT Conference of States Parties, President Maurer called upon States to consider their obligation to ensure respect for international humanitarian law in their arms transfer decisions and honour commitments under the ATT.

"Three years into the Arms Trade Treaty, there is an urgent need to turn words into deeds, and to prevent the devastating and irreparable harm that is caused when weapons fall into the wrong hands," President Maurer said.

"There is an urgent need for all States – both in and outside of the treaty – to take an honest look at how their actions and their inactions are perpetuating cycles of violations, insecurity and suffering at tremendous human, economic and societal costs. Failing to manage the supply chain without regard to how weapons will be used is putting a dirt cheap price on the lives of civilians."

 - A comprehensive study on arms availability undertaken by the ICRC in 1999 demonstrated that there is a clear correlation between easy access to arms in armed conflicts and the commission of war crimes.

 - As long as weapons are too easily available, there is a high risk that they will be misused, lives will be lost, serious violations of international humanitarian law will be facilitated, and medical and humanitarian assistance will be endangered.

- ICRC is concerned about the gap between the duty to ensure respect for IHL in arms transfers and the actual transfer practices of too many States.

- The Arms Trade Treaty requires each State Party to regulate the international trade in conventional arms taking place under its jurisdiction, including export, import, transit and brokering, and to take measures to prevent their diversion to the illicit market.

- Today, 92 States are already party to the ATT and it is widely accepted that arms and ammunition are not just another form of commercial good. States not yet party to the ATT should show their commitment to act responsibly in the arms trade by joining and making it a truly universal legal instrument.

For further information please contact:
Matt Clancy, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 79 574 15 54