Conference on Arms Trade Treaty meets in Geneva

controlarms.orgThe World Trade Organisation is hosting the second conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which came into force in 2014, laying out new rules governing the international arms market.

Arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen have largely dominated the conference, with the Control Arms coalition urging major weapons exporters to cut sales to Saudi Arabia over its actions in Yemen.

Since the Saudi-led coalition began its campaign last March, France has authorized $18bn in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia last year, the United States approved arms deals with Riyadh worth $5.9bn in 2015, while for Britain the figure was $4bn. (ATT Monitor 2016 Report)

A recent article in the Economist points out that the Saudi coalition has a worse record for civilian casualties in Yemen than the oft-criticized Russian air campaign in Syria:

Air strikes were responsible for more than half the thousands of civilian deaths in the 16-month campaign, Amnesty International reported in May. It found evidence that British cluster bombs had been used. Together with other watchdogs, including the UN Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam, it has documented the use of Western weaponry to hit scores of Yemeni markets, medical centres, warehouses, factories and mosques. One analyst alleges that the use of its weapons amounts to Western complicity in war crimes.

According to Oxfam, the UK government has switched from being an enthusiastic backer of the international Arms Trade Treaty to one of the most significant violators. See UK in ‘denial and disarray’ over Saudi arms sales being used in Yemen: Oxfam (Middle East Eye, 23 August 2016):

How can the [UK] government insist that others abide by a treaty it helped set up if it flagrantly ignores it?

Control Arms also accuses major exporters of fueling the war in South Sudan by authorizing arms transfers despite clear UN sanctions. See Western powers flouting international law by selling arms to Saudis: group (Globe and Mail, 22 August 2016).

And what about Canada?

Not only is Canada complicit in the Saudi violations of international law through its $15 billion sale of armoured vehicles, but Canadian companies have also been cited by UN experts for violating the UN arms embargo on South Sudan.

The latest update from the CBC on the South Sudan arms scandal reports that the Canadian government, after initially alleging it had no responsibility in the matter, has now referred the UN panel’s findings about the Streit Group to the RCMP. In the words of government spokesperson François Lasalle:

It is the role of the RCMP to investigate potential offences under Canadian law, while the prosecution of offences under federal jurisdiction is the responsibility of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada who will determine if Canada has jurisdiction to prosecute based on the facts of the case.

The Streit Group is also accused by the UN of breaching international law through the “illicit transfer” of armored vehicles to Libya contrary to a UN embargo on arms dealings.

For the full Control Arms report on compliance with the Arms Trade Treaty, see  The 2016 Report (Arms Treaty Monitor).

Note that Canada has said it will ratify the Arms Trade Treaty by June 2017.

Photo credit: Control Arms

Tags: Arms industry, Arms trade, Arms Trade Treaty, ATT, Canada, Canadian Forces, Canadian LAVs, Control Arms, Defence lobby, France, Human rights, Human Rights Watch, IHL, International Humanitarian Law, Libya, Light Armoured Vehicles, Oxfam, Rideau Institute, Saudi Arabia, Streit Group, Syria, UK, UN arms embargo, UN sanctions, United Nations, USA, War crimes, Yemen