On Friday evening, the Human Rights Council adopted resolution Impact of arms transfer on human rights in armed conflict, with the vote 42 in favour -1 against and 4 abstentions (with the United States as the only vote against).

The resolution is the first time the issue of arms trade has been dealt with by the Human Rights Council, and we’re particularly excited to see that it acknowledges the link between the arms trade and gender-based violence, in accordance with the recently negotiated Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).

The resolution links arms trade and the violation of human rights, including women’s rights, and gender-based violence:

Notes with alarm that such arms transfers can have a seriously negative impact on the human rights of women and girls, who may be disproportionately affected by the widespread availability of arms, as it may increase the risk of sexual and gender-based violence, and may also contribute to the recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts;”

Together with other civil society groups and like-minded governments, WILPF was highly involved in the advocacy work for the negotiation of a robust, comprehensive, and legally-binding ATT earlier this year. In particular, WILPF advocated for the inclusion of a legally-binding provision on preventing armed gender-based violence.

The Treaty obligates exporting state parties to assess the risk that the weapons being transferred would facilitate gender-based violence by either state or non-state actors, and not to make the transfer if there is such a risk.


The implementation in all UN organs

Since the ATT text was adopted in April 2013, the focus has now shifted to the ratification and implementation process. The UN needs to take the ATT into account in all of its organs, in order to ensure that the Treaty effectively prevents human suffering.

It is highly worrying that members of the Council such as the USA and South Korea argued at Human Rights Council that this is not the appropriate forum for this debate. Similar arguments have been made when the Council has dealt with fully autonomous weapons and other weapons-related issues.

In real life, problems of arms proliferation and human suffering are not isolated from one another. Therefore, the UN system needs to reflect this and build bridges between institutions in order to have appropriate tools to deal with modern human threats.

WILPF has actively been exploring the linkage between disarmament and human rights, and how to bring the issue of arms trade to the UN human rights bodies, including the Human Rights Council, and vice versa.

Our position on this resolution is only another example of it. It is therefore highly encouraging to see that the Council, through this resolution, acknowledged the effect that arms proliferation and trade have on human lives in spite of attempts to block such initiative.

The Negotiation process

Indeed, negotiations of this resolution have not been easy. What started off with many positive elements, the resolution was watered down throughout the Council’s session.

A paragraph recognizing that “arms transfers to parties in countries affected by armed conflict heighten the number of civilian casualties, increase tensions, and exacerbate conflicts thereby prolonging their duration” was unfortunately removed, despite such consequences of arm transfer are obvious to many.

The resolution was also amended to include an explicit reference to national law and procedures, which unfortunately means that the international standard can be subjugated to national law.

But on a positive note, attempts to limit the scope of the resolution to only include “illicit” or “illegal” arms transfer (as if only “illegal” arms deals have a negative impact on human rights) failed, and the drafters managed to keep the stronger language in the text. Unfortunately, this lead to the United States voted against the resolution.

But despite the lack of consensus, we hope this resolution will encourage states that have not yet done so to sign and ratify the Arms Trade Treaty and to work for its efficient implementation. As of today, 112 states have signed the treaty, and seven states have ratified it. WILPF and other civil society organizations will continue their work to make sure the Treaty will have a real impact on the ground and make a difference for human lives.

WILPF also acknowledges the first ever United Nation Security Council resolution adopted on small arms and light weapons (SALW), on the 26 September 2013. The resolution references the Arms Trade Treaty and highlights how SALW disproportionately impact women and require the full and meaningful participation of women to address in order to promote peace and security.

However, gender is not integrated throughout the resolution, and issues such as sanctions regimes and arms embargoes are addressed without critical gender considerations. While WILPF welcomes the steps forward that resolution takes and thinks it’s positive that the issue of arms and arms trade is discussed in a wider range of forum, we continue to urge that these two resolutions and the Arms Trade Treaty are implemented with particular attention to gender equality and women’s participation and rights in all aspects.