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Complicity and beyond: International law and the transfer of small arms and light weapons

30-09-2005 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 859, by Alexandra Boivin

The obligations of arms-exporting States toward the victims of small arms and light weapons beyond their borders are not merely moral. When serious violations of international law are threatened or perpetrated, States have a legal duty to act in a lawful manner in order to bring such violations to an end. One of the ways this can be done is by ensuring that the export and transit of weapons from their territory are tightly controlled.


Alexandra Boivin
holds B.A. and B.C.L./LL.B. degrees from McGill University and a Masters degree (DEA) in International Humanitarian Law from the Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva. 

Momentum is growing around a proposed treaty governing the international transfer of small arms and light weapons. Those promoting the new instrument emphasize the existing obligations of States, under the law of State responsibility, not to aid or assist another State in violating international law. This article explores the extent to which the prohibition of “complicity” is a sufficient basis for requiring States to consider the end-use of the weapons they transfer. It offers suggestions for strengthening the effectiveness of the current draft treaty in a way that places respect for international humanitarian law and human rights at its core.  

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