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Germany: CEDAW Committee Recommends Stronger Regulation of Arms Transfers

30 March 2017

The Committee of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has recommended stronger regulation of Germany’s arms exports. In its Concluding Observations[1], adopted at its 66th session, the Committee shares our concerns about the impact of arms proliferation on the rights and safety of women in importing countries. The Committee reflects our recommendations that Germany harmonise its laws on arms export control and conduct comprehensive and transparent assessments on the impact of arms proliferation on women before granting export licenses.

On 21 February 2017, the Committee reviewed Germany’s progress and challenges in implementing CEDAW. Jointly with the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), WILPF made a submission for that review. In our joint report, we reiterated and expanded on concerns that WILPF had raised in a statement to the Committee’s pre-sessional working group that drafted the List of Issues[2] for Germany. In those, the Committee asked Germany information about steps to “(a) to integrate a gender dimension into strategic dialogues with countries purchasing German arms; (b) to conduct gender-sensitive risk assessments, in accordance with the Arms Trade Treaty, in order to mitigate the potentially negative impact on women’s rights of arms transfers to countries marked by armed conflict or at risk of such conflicts”.[3]

Prior to the Committee’s dialogue with the German delegation, WILPF participated in the Informal Meeting and the informal Lunch Briefing with Committee members. International Board Member Heidi Meinzolt from WILPF Germany presented our concerns and recommendations. Katrin Geyer (Intern, WILPF’s Human Rights Program) chaired the informal Lunch Briefing.

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During the interactive dialogue, the Committee asked the German delegation if gender-based violence formed part of the eligibility criteria for arms exports; and if Germany planned to increase transparency in the decision-making process to allow for export-licenses. Germany replied that arms export applications were considered on a case-by-case basis, considering gender-based violence as required by the Arms Trade Treaty and the Council of the European Union Common Position. Germany reassured that the government was of the view that its approach was comprehensive, target-oriented and that necessary issues were sufficiently taken into account.

Germany has indeed put in place a system to assess and approve arms transfer. The arms export control is said to take into account, amongst other factors: the situation of human rights in the country of destination, the risk of diversion and the recipients past record of using arms in accordance with stated purposes. Last year, we drew attention to the case of exports of firearms to Mexico, produced by the German company Heckler and Koch. Arms were, supposedly illegally, exported despite of Mexico’s human rights crisis, along with its high rates of femicides perpetrated with firearms. Particularly scandalous was the evidence that the State police used arms exported by Heckler and Koch in the night that 43 students disappeared in Ayotzinapa.

In our joint report to the Committee, in addition to Mexico, we highlighted as examples of concern arms transfers to India, Iraq, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Arms transfers can have serious consequences for the rights and safety of women in importing countries. For instance, arms accessibility and availability can facilitate or exacerbate violence against women, including femicides; and can have a negative impact on women’s equality, their mobility and their political participation. Germany does not have a particular mechanism to assess the risk of arms being used to commit or facilitate serious acts of gender-based violence or serious acts of violence against women. For this reason, we recommended, among other things, that this be rectified in line with ATT requirements. We also recommended improved transparency around arms transfer decisions, including the rationale for allowing transfers to States with poor human rights records.

We are very encouraged that the Committee addressed arms transfers in its Concluding Observations, by expressing concerns that Germany’s legislation does not “mention gender based violence as a ground for denying an export license”, and recommending “that legislation regulating arms export control be harmonized” and that “before export licenses are granted, comprehensive and transparent assessments should be conducted on the impact that the misuse of small arms and light weapons have on women, including in conflict zones”.[4]

WILPF will continue to advocate for Germany and other States to fulfill their international obligations to prevent arms being used to violate human rights and protect the safety and rights of women all over the world.

For more information, read The Impact of Germany’s Arms Transfers on Women – Extraterritorial Obligations under CEDAW

For guidance to states on how to incorporate gender-based violence criteria into their risk assessment, see Preventing GBV – Executive Summary

About the CEDAW Committee’s reporting process

The CEDAW Committee is a body of 23 experts on women’s rights who serve in a personal capacity four-year terms. These experts examine initial and periodic reports submitted by States parties on steps they have taken to implement the Convention. The Committee makes observations and recommendations based on those reports and issues general recommendations that clarify the scope of the Convention and provide detailed guidance to States parties on how to implement the obligations of the Convention.

Every four years, States parties have to provide a report on their implementation efforts and challenges. The reporting cycle consists of 1) State’s report (on legislative, judicial, administrative & other measures); 2) Pre-session (which consists of a working group, based on state’s report(s) and other info, e.g NGOs); 3) List of Issues (Outcome of the Pre-session, intended to provide focus for the dialogue), 4) Written Replies by the State 5) the Session (interactive dialogue with delegation of State party); 6) Concluding Observations; 7) Follow-up (two issues of Concluding Observations are selected to be reported on by State party within 1 or 2 years); 8) Next State’s report.

For more information on the CEDAW reporting process and opportunities for NGO participation, see, for instance OHCHR (CEDAW 1982-2012: 30 years working for women’s rights); or IWRAW Pacific


[1] UN index: CEDAW/C/DEU/CO/7-8 (3 March 2017)

[2] UN index: CEDAW/C/DEU/Q/7-8 (2 August 2016)

[3] UN index: CEDAW/C/DEU/Q/7-8, para 5 (2 August 2016)

[4] UN index: CEDAW/C/DEU/CO/7-8, para 28 (3 March 2017)

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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. 

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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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