The Arms Trade Treaty: a human rights treaty?

On Tuesday 11 June 2013, the ICJ convened a parallel event, organised with the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, during the Human Rights Council’s 23rd regular session held in Geneva.

The event, held in Room XXV of the Palais des Nations, discussed how human rights will be promoted by the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), including ways to ensure compliance with the ATT and the relevance of the treaty for activities of the Human Rights Council and international human rights experts. The event was chaired by Alex Conte, Director of the ICJ’s International Law and Protection Programmes. Panelists were Simon Bagshaw, Senior Policy Adviser for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs; Professor Andrew Clapham, Director of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights; and Dr Stuart Casey-Maslen, Head of Research at the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights.

Simon Bagshaw provided a background to the treaty from a humanitarian perspective, recognising that the ATT provides an opportunity to address some of the humanitarian impacts and costs of the arms trade. He also stressed the importance of specific elements within the treaty, such as the obligation to refrain from authorising the transfer of weapons where a substantial risk exists that this may result in serious violations of international human rights law or international humanitarian law.

Andrew Clapham and Stuart Casey-Maslen focussed on the human rights perspective. Professor Clapham promoted the use of mechanisms such as the Human Rights Council and its Universal Periodic Review to assist in implementation of the treaty. Dr Casey-Maslen discussed areas that may help ratification, implementation and monitoring of the ATT, including the role of civil society in that regard.

Several questions were raised during discussions concerning how the treaty would work in practice and its broader implications for non-State actors. Panellists confirmed that the ATT includes the facilitation of crimes as enumerated in the treaty and may also cover domestic crimes of terrorism. Since the ATT does not provide for the establishment of fact-finding missions, it was emphasised that civil society will need to act to monitor compliance with the ATT. Panellists also pointed out the important role of the treaty regarding the conduct of non-State actors. Although the treaty sets out obligations for States only, States parties will be responsible for providing licensing to arms manufacturers and private companies working within the weapons industry.

UN HRC-Arms Treaty side event flyer-event-2013 (event flyer in pdf)