World leaders will meet this year to decide on adopting a global treaty to regulate weapons transfers between countries.

The proposed law, an Arms Trade Treaty, would form an international agreement on how weapons (including ammunition) will be traded between countries and minimise human suffering that occurs as a result.

Why do we need a global Arms Trade Treaty?

Every day, millions of people suffer from the direct and indirect consequences of the irresponsible and poorly regulated arms trade. Here are some sobering statistics:

  • 1,500 people are killed every day as a result of conflict and armed violence
  • 26 million people have been forced to flee their homes as a result of armed conflict
  • 12 billion bullets are produced every year
  • 74 per cent of the world’s weapons are produced by six countries: USA, UK, France, Russia, Germany and China
  • The majority of causalities from armed conflict are civilians.

Beyond killing, millions of people have to live under the constant threat of weapons which are also used to perpetrate thousands of human rights violations each year. Read more facts on the scale and impact of the arms trade.

Aren't there already international rules about how weapons are traded?

The world’s governments have never agreed to comprehensive, legally binding international rules governing the trade of weapons. As incredible as it may seem, there are international regulations controlling the trade in dinosaur bones, bananas, and bottled water, but not guns and bullets.

If existing controls aren't working, how do we know this will?

Most governments have been inconsistent in implementing existing regional or multilateral controls on the arms trade, or have failed to incorporate them into national law.

Several arms-exporting countries have not signed up to these agreements at all. The result of this is that weapons frequently fall into the wrong hands, where they are used to fuel conflict, poverty and human rights abuses.

However, the arms trade is global and to control it requires a global solution. An Arms Trade Treaty would be international, ensuring all countries are working to the same standards. It would also be legally binding, and in line with international law.

In the UN General Assembly in 2010, the majority of governments agreed that the objective of the Arms Trade Treaty is to create the highest possible common standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms.

Because an Arms Trade Treaty would be international, it would ensure all countries are legally bound to the same standards.

How would an international Arms Trade Treaty work?

An effective Arms Trade Treaty should be one that protects lives, livelihoods and human rights. However, the Treaty should allow for countries to lawfully sell, acquire and posses arms for their security, law enforcement and self defence, consistent with international law and best practice standards.

But to ensure real security, the Treaty should also require countries not to transfer arms internationally where there is a substantial risk that these weapons will be used in serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law, which states are already obliged to uphold.

An effective Arms Trade Treaty should also prevent international arms transfers where there is a substantial risk that they will facilitate patterns of armed violence including terrorist attacks, gender-based violence, violent crime and organised crime; or that they will seriously impair poverty reduction or socio-economic development.

Why aren't you calling for an end to the arms trade, 'full stop'?

We recognise that governments can lawfully sell, acquire and possess arms for their security, law enforcement and self defence, consistent with international law and best practice standards.

We’re calling for strong global regulations on the transfer of weapons between countries to stem human rights abuses that can happen when the world’s weapons fall into the wrong hands.

Has work started on an Arms Trade Treaty?

The idea of an arms trade treaty first came from Nobel Peace Laureates, supported by civil society organisations worldwide.

Amnesty International was at the forefront of the ‘Million Faces’ campaign which resulted in the UN member states agreeing in 2006 to introduce a global Arms Trade Treaty.

In December 2006, 153 governments finally voted at the United Nations to start work on developing a global Arms Trade Treaty. Momentum for the treaty has been building ever since.

In 2009 the UN General Assembly launched a time frame for the negotiation of the Arms Trade Treaty. This included one preparatory meeting in 2010 two in 2011, and one in February 2012, before the final negotiating conference scheduled for July 2012. A treaty was not adopted at this conference, but we're now closer than ever to getting a strong Arms Trade Treaty that protects millions of live.

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