States Avoid Discussing Controversial Arms Trade

At the third annual conference since the Arms Trade Treaty entered into force in 2014, states-parties again generally avoided formal discussion of controversial arms transfers, especially those to Saudi Arabia. As in past years, civil society members encouraged states to specifically discuss and, in many cases, halt arms transfers into conflict zones, including transfers to the Saudi-led coalition active in the Yemen war. The treaty requires the establishment of national export control systems, as well as assessments of whether exported arms could facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law.

Speaking on behalf of the Control Arms coalition on Sept. 11, Yemen-based Radhya al-Mutawakel of the Mwatana Organization for Human Rights said that 19 states-parties and three signatories had agreed to sell or deliver weapons to Saudi Arabia since the outbreak of the Yemen war. In calling for all arms transfers affecting that conflict to stop, she added “Sadly, many ordinary Yemenis have come to know some of your countries through the weapons that have destroyed their homes and killed their families.”

In analyzing all statements, the nongovernmental group Reaching Critical Will identified just one country, Costa Rica, that specifically mentioned Yemen. A total of 106 countries attended the five-day meeting in Geneva, including 79 of 92 states-parties and 23 of 41 signatories. Discussion primarily centered on treaty working groups, funding, and other administrative matters, as well as linkages between the treaty and sustainable development goals. States-parties provisionally agreed to meet next year in Japan during Aug. 20–24. 

Separately, the European Parliament on Sept. 13 again adopted a nonbinding resolution for an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia, reiterating a decision made in February 2016 and stating that such transfers are “non-compliant” with the EU’s Common Position on Arms Export Controls. Many of the countries identified as providing arms are EU members. (See ACT, October 2016.) — JEFF ABRAMSON