Event North America

Arms Trade Treaty: Discussed at NEU

Story by Christian Jepsen | jepsen.c@husky.neu.edu

On February 2nd, Northeastern University hosted the Anna Macdonald, the Director and Secretariat of the organization Control Arms. Control Arms was founded in 2003 with the goal of establishing an international treaty regulating the sale of arms. Although she maintained an optimism, she did not disguise the difficulties that came with its passage or its current weaknesses. As early as 2001, in the wake of the Balkan wars and the Rwandan Genocide, NGOs began to talk about the need for regulation of international weapons sales among states. From its humble beginnings in 2003, the organization Control Arms has been by far the most strident voice for the treaty. It started by focusing on regions of the world, and asking one country from each continent to support the creation of a global arms trade treaty in the UN. At the end of 2003, 50 countries supported such a plan from each continent, and the plan had gotten the attention of the UN. By 2013, the Arms Trade Treaty’s text was finalized, and had entered into force with 130 signatories.

Several factors were key in turning opposition around: First, Control Arms launched one of the largest social media campaigns in history in support of the ATT, reaching people from nearly all the world’s countries and encouraging them to contact their governments in support of the treaty. Second, Control Arms created clear, empirical proof that the unregulated arms trade was having an impact on the the global economy and international quality of life. In one study, Control Arms estimated that internal violence costs Africa’s economy $18 billion every year, more than the total international aid that the continent receives every year. Finally, Control Arms sought public figures to assist it in the campaign for a Global Arms Treaty; actors such as Helen Mirren and Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf brought key attention to the issue, and were often persuasive among key UN delegations.

However, the ATT’s advocates have several key goals to accomplish, according to MacDonald: The ATT has gone into effect already, but Control Arms is trying to encourage more states (particularly in Africa) to ratify it. Ultimately, Control Arms is trying have 30 ATT members in Africa by October of 2016. In addition, Control Arms is assisting in monitoring the implementation of the ATT in its state parties, and publicizing violations whenever possible. Finally, Control Arms is trying to expand the treaty so that sales to human rights violators are suspended by its terms. In this regard, the treaty is only just beginning to be enforced, and has in fact had noteworthy setbacks. For example, the UK, US and several others have recently been found to be in breach of the ATT after selling Saudi Arabia cluster bombs used against civilians in Yemen. Although the ATT has grown significantly, it still has significant work ahead of it.

“Leaders, Celebrities and Journalists Call for Arms Trade Treaty.” Www.amnesty.ie. Amnesty International, 23 Apr. 2007. Web. 1 Mar. 2016.


“UK Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia Found to Violate the ATT.” Controlarms.org. Control Arms, 16 Dec. 2015. Web. 1 Mar. 2016.


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