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The Unexplored Links between Humanitarian Disarmament and RtoP

The following is a guest post by Alexandra Hiniker. Alexandra is the Representative to the United Nations for PAX, an ICRtoP member, and founding member of the Cluster Munition Coalition. PAX works together with civil society organizations around the world as well as supportive governments and relevant international organizations to promote the cluster bomb ban. Before joining PAX, Alexandra spent five years working in three of the countries most affected by cluster bombs – Lebanon, Laos, and Cambodia.

The Unexplored Links between Humanitarian Disarmament and the Responsibility to Protect

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Controlled demolition of cluster munitions in Laos. Tracie Williams/CMC.

As 100 governments gather in San Jose, Costa Rica, this week to discuss implementation of the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), this post will look at the treaty from another angle – the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). While the inclusion of the 2013 Arms Trade Treaty in the 2013 United Nations Secretary-General’s (UNSG) Report on RtoP established a clear link between arms transfers and the norm, there are also existing humanitarian disarmament treaties and processes, such as the CCM, that impact RtoP and the ability to protect populations from atrocity crimes.

By signing onto treaties such as the CCM, states are taking an important measure towards fulfillment of their Responsibility to Protect populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. In light of the upcoming UN General Assembly dialogue focusing on Pillar Two of RtoP – the building of state capacity to protect populations from atrocity crimes – this analysis also highlights the CCM provisions that help states implement this second pillar, using the recent educational document  by the ICRtoP on clarifying Pillar Two.

Cluster Munitions Cause Unacceptable Harm to Civilians

Cluster munitions are weapons containing multiple submunitions, or bomblets, which can be dropped from the air, or launched from the ground or sea. At the time of use, the weapons cannot distinguish between military and civilian targets. Additionally, the weapons do not always go off as intended, leaving behind unexploded bomblets that become de facto landmines. These bomblets remain buried for decades after a conflict ends, not only killing and injuring innocent civilians, but also preventing any future development. Land contaminated with unexploded bomblets cannot be used to grow food, build roads, or construct hospitals and schools – although some people face such dire situations that they knowingly take risks simply to survive. According to the Cluster Munition Coalition, 60% of casualties occur when such activities are being undertaken, and one-third of all recorded casualties are children. Due to their indiscriminate nature, cluster munitions were banned through the Oslo Process, which resulted in the CCM.

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Unexploded sub-munition buried in a field in Laos. Wikimedia Photo Commons.

The CCM, which contains similar provisions to the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty, or Ottawa Convention, bans the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of cluster munitions, and requires stockpile destruction and clearance of all known contaminated areas. The CCM also includes articles on victim assistance, international cooperation and assistance, and treaty universalization.

 

The Role of the CCM in RtoP’s Second Pillar

As the 2014 Report of the Secretary-General specifies one of the elements of Pillar Two is encouraging a state to uphold its Pillar One obligations. Therefore, encouraging states to adopt this treaty, as called for in the universalization clause in the treaty itself, as well as points on discouraging use of such weapons by any actor, are examples of Pillar Two action.

Another component of Pillar Two, building state capacity to protect, is an essential part of the CCM addressed in the provision on international cooperation and assistance. Technical and financial assistance can support ongoing efforts to clear affected areas, destroy stockpiles, and educate communities about the risks of living in contaminated areas. Additionally, support can go to providing victim assistance, which benefits not only survivors of accidents and their communities, but overall healthcare systems as well.

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UNIFIL solider guarding unexploded ordnance in Lebanon. UN Photo.

Indirect capacity development results from the required periodic reports on treaty implementation status, which leads government agencies and military branches that would not necessarily interact to cooperate and share information, contributing to overall strengthening of governance capacities.

Military cooperation at the international level also increases, as militaries often share information and expertise on technical issues, such as clearance and stockpile destruction. Affected states that have received capacity development support have even gone on to apply their skills and expertise to others through United Nations Peacekeeping operations. For example, Cambodia, one of the countries most affected by explosive remnants of war, began providing demining assistance to the United Nations Mission in Sudan in 2006.

A Relationship Needing Further Attention

As the recent Cluster Munition Monitor report shows, great strides have been made in ridding the world of these horrific weapons since the ban treaty entered into force. However, continued use in Syria, South Sudan, and Ukraine indicate that further efforts are necessary to fully achieve the CCM’s objectives. Treaty universalization, stronger and more consistent condemnation of increasingly rare use, and more follow-up on international cooperation and assistance requirements to clear affected areas, destroy stockpiles, and assist victims are a few examples of steps that can be taken.

Additional humanitarian disarmament processes underway can also contribute to strengthening the implementation of RtoP. These include, but are not limited to, nuclear weapons, depleted uranium, toxic remnants of war, and fully autonomous weapons. Practices and policies regarding the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and casualty recording are additional areas that should also be further explored. It has long been acknowledged that humanitarian disarmament is a human rights and development issue, and international humanitarian law has developed in response to this challenge. However, identifying the connection between humanitarian disarmament and atrocities prevention is a relatively new objective. Further research and a better understanding of this connection with RtoP could help strengthen both agendas.

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WHEN ARMS GET IN THE WRONG HANDS: Arms trade and the implications for upholding the Responsibility to Protect

The trade of virtually all goods is regulated and controlled; however, no global standard exists for the international trading of arms. As we speak, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) is meeting for the final negotiations on an international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The idea of a treaty was introduced at the UN in 2006 in the form of a draft resolution. In 2009, the UNGA adopted Resolution 64/48 to convene a UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty to stop the lethal consequences of the uncontrolled trade of arms which have included hundreds of thousands of deaths, women raped at gunpoint and children recruited into armed groups; not to mention the many injured, tortured, abused or taken hostage. As the United Nations Secretary General has argued, “violence against civilians is…unquestionably abetted by the free flow of weapons…we urgently need a robust and comprehensive agreement that addresses the humanitarian impact of the poorly regulated trade in arms.” From 18-28 March 2013, the UNGA will negotiate the final text of the Treaty. Many civil society groups and members of the NGO coalition, Control Armsincluding Vision Gram International and Africa Peace Forum have stated that the document being discussed is a weaker version of the original proposal with loopholes that undermine the effectiveness of the treaty, including ambiguity in the use of terms such as “trade” and “transfer” and lower standards of control for ammunition. Nonetheless, many states and civil society organizations are positive that, if passed, the Treaty will be a step forward in achieving more security and protection.

UN Secretary General at the Opening of the Final Conference on The Arms Trade Treaty.

UN Secretary General at the Opening of the Final Conference on The Arms Trade Treaty. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The Arms Trade: Impacting the Security Sector

The arms trade is a globalized and lucrative business – Oxfam International estimates that between 2008 and 2011, the trade was worth more than $9.7bn. There is an incredibly strong link between poor arms control, access to conventional weapons and the increased likelihood of intra-state violence, which can lead to the commission of mass atrocities. The presence of illegal arms and armed elements is one of the eight indicators of the Office of the UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide‘s analysis framework which assists in determining whether there may be a risk of genocide in a given situation. As small arms and ammunition can be easily transferred, stolen or diverted, they are frequently the weapons of choice in armed conflicts. Thus, regulating their trade and stopping their illegal diversion can have a powerful impact on a state’s ability to prevent mass atrocities. According to Dr. Robert Zuber, of Global Action to Prevent War (GAPW), the presence of large amounts of arms creates an unpredictable security situation and undermines state control of the security sector;

The irresponsible transfer of weapons and ammunition and proliferation of illicit small arms have direct implications for our ability to secure our streets…[and on] the ability of governments to discharge many of its important functions including the primary responsibility to protect civilians from violence.”

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Weapons retrieved from rebels by the UN’s mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) in coordination with the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) in DRC. Credit: UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti

In addition to contributing to cycles of violence, the presence of illicit arms in the hands of non-state actors and rebel groups complicates regional and international efforts to strengthen a state’s capacity to fulfill its primary responsibility to protect. What’s more, though it’s clear that governments need to minimize the spread of illicit weapons to uphold their commitment to protect populations from mass atrocity crimes, in many cases, it is the state, itself, that is complicit in the conflict and the spread and use of illegal arms.

Perpetuating the Violence

The responsibility to minimize the spread of weapons is not limited to countries in conflict. The five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, or the ‘P5’ – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States – are the world’s largest arms traders. Amnesty Internationals report entitled “Major Powers Fueling Atrocities: Why the World Needs a Robust Arms Trade Treaty,” demonstrates how all five countries have “engaged in arms deals that fueled atrocities”. China‘s state-owned companies, for example, supplied weapons to the Gaddafi regime in Libya as well as ammunition for small arms used by security forces and militia in Darfur; while Russia supplies weapons to Syria, Myanmar and Sudan that have been used to attack civilians. The government of Russia, which has admitted to supplying Syrian forces with weapons, has blocked several UN resolutions aimed at halting the violence by imposing an arms embargo and sanctions on Syria and says it will continue to supply weapons to the regime. Meanwhile Saudi Arabia and Qatar are delivering arms to the opposition forces, which some say could prolong the increasingly deteriorating humanitarian crisis and civil war. While some Western states originally pushed Russia to stop its arms trade to Syria, the United Kingdom and France  are now calling for the European Union to lift its arms embargo on Syria so they can send weapons to the rebels. Though the United States has argued that more weapons in Syria would do more damage, it has promised not to get in the way of other governments supplying arms to the rebels. This flow of weapons to the Syrian opposition has sparked a debate, with many arguing that these measures, undertaken by the international community to uphold protection obligations, actually perpetuate more violence. As one human rights blogSelf Evident Truth, puts it:

So long as the superpowers…arm the world with small arms, their approval of the responsibility to protect has little meaning.”

The importance of disarmament

In addition to preventing conflict, the regulation of the arms trade is an important step in securing a safe environment in post-crisis situations. According to Ray Acheson, Chair of civil society organization Reaching Critical Will, “the excess weapons available throughout the world continue…impeding the post-conflict rehabilitation and reconstruction”. This has been devastatingly illustrated in the case of Libya, as remaining weapons in the hands of thousands of militias have hampered the state’s control over the security sector, exacerbating the country’s already unstable situation. This case also showed the importance of preventing the spread of weapons in post-conflict countries as reports emerged that missing weapons from Libya may have appeared in the hands of Islamist rebels in Mali. Human Rights Watch recently stated that;

Urgent efforts to secure anti-aircraft missiles from Libya…blinded western governments to the danger of other weapons going missing and fueling conflicts in Mali…it takes a tiny fraction of the weapons missing in Libya to supercharge a conflict like Mali.”

Thus, amid attempts to protect populations in Libya, a lack of oversight of the flow of weapons throughout the country may have actually played a part in fueling conflict in Mali by providing easily accessible arms to northern-based rebel groups.

Civil society calls for stronger references to Atrocity Crimes in ATT

Article 3 in the latest draft of the ATT, on “Prohibited Transfers”, requires that a state party not authorize a transferfor the purpose of facilitating the commission genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes.According to Reaching Critical Will’s ATT Monitor, this language demonstrates that governments agree that arms must not be transferred to a state where there is a risk of gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. While this is a start, Africa Peace Forum states that under the treaty the “states’ obligation to refuse transfers if they assess there is a substantial risk that the transfer would result in human rights and humanitarian law violations are legally ambiguous.” Meanwhile, according Amnesty International, these references are too narrow and the definition of war crimes is extremely limited. Reaching Critical Will, argues“a circumstance in which a state would apply to import arms specifically for the purpose of committing genocide or any of the other crimes listed is a rather high threshold for prohibition.” Oxfam adds that, “the draft Article as it relates to genocide falls far short of the duty to prevent genocide by taking action before it happens…As currently drafted…Article 3.3 will apply only where genocide has already taken place.” Such language risks undermining the very foundation on which RtoP is based: the prevention of atrocities.

Amnesty International has suggested revisions to the text to support a preventative framework, stating that, “a State Party shall not authorize a transfer of conventional arms within the scope of this Treaty if the transfer would facilitate the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes or a consistent pattern of serious violations of international human rights law.”

Going forward with or without a treaty

The link between the flow of illicit weapons and the increasing likelihood of RtoP crimes as well as the devastating impact of access to weapons on a state’s ability to protect its population show the urgent need for regulations on the trade of arms, which the ATT can provide. However, it is also important to note that even if the Treaty is not adopted, willing governments can take measures to oversee the safe sale of arms and civil society can advocate for such measures. While a strong Arms Trade Treaty could greatly reduce serious human rights violations and contribute to the general reduction of conflict throughout the world, a weaker treaty might be worse than no treaty at all. The important truth is that with fewer weapons available, governments will be one step closer to being better able to uphold their responsibility to protect their populations from RtoP crimes; it is up to activists, civil society organizations, the media, and policymakers everywhere to make this a reality.

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