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France Called by CEDAW Committee to Control Its Arms Exports

31 July 2016

France is one of the major arms exporter countries in the world. The French government’s 2008 annual arms exports report to parliament shows that France roughly ranks as the world’s fourth largest weapons exporter (7.7 per cent of worldwide sales), behind the United States (52.3 per cent), the United-Kingdom (13.7 per cent), and the Russian Federation (8.2 per cent).

As an arm exporter, the country has an obligation of due diligence towards human rights when carrying out arms transfers. In particular, according to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), states must ensure that their arms exports are not used to perpetrate or facilitate crimes of gender-based violence.

WILPF is constantly denouncing situations in which arms transfers violate the ATT and human rights in general and recently we seized the opportunity of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) review of France to submit a report on the impact of French arms transfers to women’s human rights in other countries. We presented it last July to the Committee with the participation of our French Section.


France arms exports

There has been no inflection of the trade of small arms by France since the ratification of the ATT. On the contrary, France signed arms export contracts worth 6.87 billion in 2013, up more than 42% from the previous year. The exports of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) also have drastically increased from 495 pieces exported in 2011 to 1063 in 2013 (3044 if we include non-lethal projectiles).

France mainly exports SALW to its former colonies, Mali and Morocco being the main ones between 2011 and 2014. From 2011, shortly before the start of the internal conflict in the country, Mali is overall France’s main trade partner when small arms are concerned, with an average of 220 automatic pistols per year, and more than 800, according to a report on arms exports released by the French Minister of Defence in 2014.

Sexual violence is used as a mean of repression from the rebels in the areas under occupation: young women are often forced into marriage to cover kidnappings, rapes and sexual slavery. By providing weapons to Mali, France does not comply with due diligence to prevent these practices, since many SALW end up in the hands of the rebels. Indeed, there are firm indications that rebel fighters captured some of this material from the Malian forces (the 2011 conflict in Libya also had an important role).

The arms trade relationship with Saudi Arabia is also of high concern. France exports small arms to this country, but also donates weapons. Saudi Arabia is a country with serious violations of women’s human rights as recognised by CEDAW Committee in its Concluding Observations, it also has violated human rights and humanitarian law when bombing Yemen. Exporting weapons to Saudi Arabia somehow legitimises its actions to the eyes of French authorities, despite its serious human rights violations.

Nuclear testing

WILPF’s French section has been for a decades deeply committed in advocating for a ban of nuclear weapons. In the report ‘Creating an international gender and peace agenda’, we decided to denounce the responsibilities of French government towards the victims of nuclear testing such as in French Polynesia or in Algeria. We demanded that France explicitly presents its excuses to the Polynesian women and that they compensate its people accordingly. We also urged for France to analyse the specific impact on women’s health and welfare.

Conclusions from the Committee

After a dialogue with the French delegation, the Committee of experts has shown its concern about the arms exports of France and has recommended: “that the State party integrates a gender dimension in its strategic dialogues with the countries purchasing French arms and continue conducting rigorous, transparent and gender sensitive risk assessments, in accordance with the Arms Trade Treaty (2013). “

The Committee also recommended France to “conduct a rigorous, transparent and gender-sensitive impact assessment of nuclear testing on women’s health in French Polynesia, and accelerate treatment of claims for the compensation of victims.”

WILPF will now closely follow the implementation of these recommendations by France and we will keep denouncing militarism in all its forms and its consequences within or across borders.


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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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