Before the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) entered into force in December 2014, there were no internationally applicable standards for trade in conventional military equipment. This has had serious consequences for many people around the world. Weapons of war and armaments, including small arms and light weapons, have proliferated unchecked, fuelling armed conflict and human rights violations. The Arms Trade Treaty is intended to change this state of affairs.
The UN General Assembly voted by a large majority on 2 April 2013 to adopt the resolution accepting the text of the Arms Trade Treaty. This was preceded by a negotiating process that began in 2006 and involved representatives not only of states, but also of non-governmental organisations and industry. In the end, 154 countries, including Germany, voted in favour of common standards for the arms trade; only three countries (Iran, North Korea and Syria) voted against and 23 countries abstained. Then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that this was a “historic achievement” and a “victory for the world’s people”.
The Treaty was opened for signature on 3 June 2013. Germany signed on the same day and deposited its instrument of ratification with the United Nations on 2 April 2014. To date, 130 states have signed the Treaty, which came into force on 24 December 2014, following ratification by more than 50 countries by the end of September 2014. With Mozambique’s ratification on 14 December 2018, it has now been ratified by 100 countries.
First ever binding rules for arms exports
This treaty was the first to lay down internationally binding rules for arms exports. It covers battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft and attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers, as well as small arms and light weapons. Prior to exports, States Parties must check, among others, whether the weapons in question could be used to “commit or facilitate a serious violation of international human rights law”.
The Federal Government actively supported the ATT negotiating process from 2006 onwards, working intensively to promote a robust and effective treaty.
With the early signing and swift conclusion of the ratification procedure, the Federal Government underscored the special importance of the ATT and supported its early entry into force.
The first Conference of the States Parties to the ATT took place in Cancún, Mexico, in August 2015 and reached important decisions on the Treaty’s institutional structure. At the two subsequent Conferences of the States Parties in Geneva (in 2016 and 2017), the groundwork for the ATT’s substantive work was laid and discussions on how it can help to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals were held for the first time. One of the topics addressed by the fourth Conference of the States Parties in Tokyo in August 2018 was the ATT’s importance for the Asia-Pacific region. The current ATT Presidency is held by Latvia, which has extended invitations to the fifth Conference of the States Parties taking place in Geneva in August 2019.
What Germany’s doing to help implement and universalise the Treaty
The Federal Government is playing an active role in helping to implement the ATT. Germany is supporting a number of initiatives to this end, particularly in developing countries. Since 2014, the Federal Government has contributed 3.5 million euros to projects of the UN donor facility UNSCAR (UN Trust Facility Supporting Cooperation on Arms Regulation). Furthermore, Germany was instrumental in helping to set up the Voluntary Trust Fund, was established in 2016 to help countries implement the ATT. Germany is currently chairing the fund’s selection committee and is its second-largest donor to the tune of almost 1.5 million euros.
In addition to further bilateral support measures promoted by the Federal Foreign Office, the Federal Office for Economic Affairs and Export Control has been implementing a wide range of export control consultancy projects in ATT partner countries on behalf of the EU since 2014. Germany is contributing one fifth of the current total volume of this EU programme of approximately 7.2 million euros for 2017-2019.
In addition to its effective implementation, the further universalisation of the Arms Trade Treaty is a crucial factor. Germany is therefore calling on other counties to accede to the ATT. With the 100th ratification of the Treaty on the part of Mozambique, efforts to universalise it have taken another step forward.