ICRC concerned at gap between commitments and practice of Arms Trade Treaty

20 August 2018

Tokyo/Geneva – Speaking today at a meeting of parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in Tokyo, Japan, Dr Helen Durham, Head of Law and Policy for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), highlighted ICRC's concerns with the growing gap between words and actions in the global trade of arms.

"The very purpose of the Treaty is to prioritize humanitarian interests and, in doing so, to reduce human suffering," said Dr Durham, "Yet we are concerned by the growing gap between States' absolute commitments to human rights and international humanitarian law – in the Treaty and elsewhere – and how arms are transferred in practice."

According to figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI):

  • The volume of international transfers of major weapons in 2013-17 was 10 per cent higher than in 2008-12.
  • In the period 2013 – 2017, the Middle East received 32% of global arms imports and experienced the highest rise in arms imports (103% increase on the five preceding years).

Today's conflicts are fuelled by a steady supply of arms and ammunition. The poor regulation and wide availability of conventional arms cause devastating and irreparable harm to the civilian population. This conclusion is not new – it was confirmed by research undertaken by the ICRC nearly two decades ago. ICRC data shows that:

  • The Middle East witnessed the highest numbers of weapon-related wound admissions in hospitals reinforced with or monitored by ICRC staff.
  • The Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions have the highest numbers of patients receiving services related to physical rehabilitation.

Dr Durham reminded states that "arms suppliers have a duty to consider the risk of the weapons they provide being used to commit, or facilitate, serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law." Of the largest exporters of major weapons, 60% are parties to the ATT, meaning that a great deal can be done by parties to the Treaty to reduce the harm caused by these weapons.

"Aid alone cannot solve the problems we face," said Dr Durham. "You, the States gathered here today, also have a vital role to play – by upholding international humanitarian law and by acting responsibly at every step along the arms transfer chain. That way, you can prevent the devastating and irreparable harm that comes when weapons fall into the wrong hands."

For more information, please contact

Matthew Clancy (Geneva): +41 79 574 15 54; mclancy@icrc.org