Campaign Against ISIS Exposes Major Gap in Arms Trade Treaty

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Oct. 2, 2014 – The Arms Trade Treaty will go into force on Dec. 24th following its fiftieth ratification last week but the recent campaign launched against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, by Western and Gulf countries exposes a major loophole in the Treaty.

The pact prohibits supplying arms to countries that would use the eight types of conventional weapons covered under the Treaty to violate international human rights law but there are no prohibitions on the transfer of these arms to non-state actors.

The US, UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar have all either supplied or said they will supply weapons to groups fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and to other groups fighting the Assad regime in Syria.

In the negotiations leading up to the agreement on the text of the Arms Trade Treaty, a number of countries – including Brazil, India, Nigeria and Turkey – called for a clear prohibition on transferring arms to non-state actors and that the entry of arms to any state must be based on the permit given by the government of such state.

But the lack of a clear and agreed definition of a non-state actor and because of a desire to avoid a subject that would stalemate the negotiations the subject was avoided.

While no country outright said it opposed a provision on arms transfers to non-state actors, the United States included the following in its red lines: “provisions inconsistent with existing US law or that would unduly interfere with our ability to import, export or transfer arms in support of our national security and foreign policy interests.”

The US is one of the 121 signatories to the Treaty but is unlikely to get the support of two-thirds of the Senate to support its ratification.

Other arms producers such as China, Canada, Israel and Russia have not signed the Treaty while major arms importers India, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have also not signed.

France, Germany, Netherlands and the UK have all ratified the Treaty.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

  • Martin Butcher

    This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the way the ATT works. It says that all international transfers of arms defined in the text must be subjected to the same risk assessment process, whether they are to States or non-State actors of whatever kind – the recipient is not defined. The Treaty covers non-State groups without mentioning them.