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July/August 2011
Vol. 36, No. 4

Arms trade: Treaty moves forward

In December 2006, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 61/89, "Towards an Arms Trade Treaty: Establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms." At that time, 153 member states supported the resolution, with the U.S. voting against it. The ability to move the Global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) forward improved in October 2009, when the Obama administration reversed the previous position and publicly stated support for the resolution.

Religious and spiritual leaders from many different traditions (Hindu, Islamic, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Jain. Sikh, Bahai and Parsi) wrote recently in support of the treaty now under discussion, noting that the objective of the ATT is to "ensure responsible transfers of weapons globally in order to prevent any serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in the form of atrocities and genocides."

In July UN member states will hold a meeting to discuss the proposed treaty, which is due to be negotiated in mid-2012. The International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) Women's Network reminds us that this meeting presents an opportunity to call on governments to adopt an ATT that would cover small arms and light weapons (SALW) within the scope of conventional weapons. SALW kill humans more than any other weapons in the world. They are also the tools that facilitate the commission of violence against women in both conflict and non-armed conflict situations.

Following is an open letter initiated by the IANSA Women's Network calling for a strong ATT:

Women from around the world call for a strong arms trade treaty

We laud the fact that nations of the world are deliberating a treaty on the arms trade. Women have paid the cost of arms proliferation for too long. We suffer the consequence for the lack of controls on today's billion-dollar trade in arms. We are particularly at risk of certain crimes because of our sex - crimes such as violence in the home, on the streets and in the battlefield.

Small arms are the weapons of choice in committing violence against women. Hence, we call for a strong and robust Treaty containing the highest possible, legally-binding standards for the international transfer of conventional weapons, including small arms and ammunition within its scope.

Small arms facilitate a vast spectrum of women's rights violations, including killing, threats and intimidation, rape and other forms of sexual violence. They facilitate the assault on women in both conflict and non-conflict situations. We hardly ever fight the world's wars, but we often suffer the most – directly and indirectly.

Hence, we ask that the ATT does not authorize the transfer of arms if they will be used to perpetrate acts of armed violence, especially gender based violence including sexual violence used as a weapon and tactic of war.

International law includes women's rights, but these are not explicit within the UN Charter or the Geneva Conventions and other instruments of international law used by diplomats in the disarmament community. However, they have been recognized by UN Security Council resolutions and other binding instruments of international law and form part of international law that is relevant for the ATT.

Therefore, to protect women's rights, the relevant binding international instruments covering gender-based violence, including rape and sexual violence, must be included in an arms trade treaty to be applied in arms transfer decisions.

It is time that women take on the role of peacebuilders and our role is recognized. Stop the victimization of women fuelled by the irresponsible trade in small arms. Forge a strong Arms Trade Treaty that will complement the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms - now!

For more information contact the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA).

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