Arms control and human rights


Arms Control and Human Rights


The irresponsible transfer of arms and other military, security and policing equipment poses grave threats to human rights worldwide and is a major concern of Amnesty International. As global production and markets for these items spread internationally, the easy availability of “tools of violence” enables the suppression of human rights, exacerbating armed conflicts and state repression. Also, the proliferation and abuse of small arms fuels epidemic levels of gun deaths and injuries in some countries.


In addition, the continuous development of new military, security and policing technologies is presenting international challenges to human rights. New munitions with immense destructive power and some that have indiscriminate effects, as well as surveillance technologies and robotic weapons systems are entering the markets. The world now even faces the growing prospect of fully autonomous weapons, or “Killer Robots”, being deployed which can choose targets and attack without meaningful human control.


Amnesty International researches and takes action to expose and devise proposals to help address these human rights problems, above all those posed by the irresponsible arms trade and misuse of conventional arms, especially small arms, inhumane weapons of warfare, ‘less lethal’ weapons used in policing and prisons and the trade in equipment used for torture.


The Arms Trade Treaty


The full establishment of a global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and its robust implementation is an idea Amnesty International initiated and one of our top priorities. After twenty years of global campaigning by Amnesty International with its partners, governments at the United Nations voted overwhelmingly to adopt an ATT on 2 April 2013. So far 118 states have signed the Treaty and 45 have ratified it. Three months after 50 ratifications the Treaty will enter into force. The rules, if properly implemented, will stop a wide range of arms flows when the sending state knows those weapons would be used for human atrocities and grave abuses of human rights. States that are parties to the Treaty will meet and report regularly, and can strengthen it over time.


The establishment of the ATT with so many states joining its support is a huge victory for human rights, given the powerful forces that opposed the Treaty. For the first time, there is a Treaty that has explicitly included conventional arms control and human rights rules. We must keep pushing to get as many states as possible to implement the Treaty in order to have the potential to save lives and livelihoods.


The Treaty’s human rights rules are simple – if a state has knowledge at the time of authorization that the arms would be used for genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes then the arms transfer must not be permitted. Also, if there is a substantial risk that arms exported to another country will contribute to serious human rights abuses, those arms supplies must also be stopped. There must be no more arms exported for atrocities or for grave human rights abuses.

News and Updates

UN: South Sudan arms embargo crucial after massive Chinese weapons transfer

17 July 2014

The United Nations Security Council must impose a comprehensive arms embargo on South Sudan, Amnesty International urged after receiving reports of Chinese small arms and ammunition proliferation amongst both sides in the conflict. 

Israel/Gaza: UN must impose arms embargo and mandate an international investigation as civilian death toll rises

11 July 2014

Amnesty International is calling for a UN-mandated international investigation into violations committed on all sides amidst ongoing Israeli air strikes across the Gaza Strip and continuing volleys of indiscriminate rocket fire from Palestinian armed groups into Israel. 


South Sudan: Independence Day marred by ongoing war crimes and looming famine

8 July 2014

New evidence is emerging of ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by both government and opposition forces in South Sudan, Amnesty International said as the country marks its third Independence Day.

UN: Final push will bring landmark Arms Trade Treaty into force

3 June 2014

Rapid progress has been made in the year since the ATT opened for signature and a surge of further ratifications will soon activate the treaty this year, helping to save millions of lives and protect human rights.


Brazil: Give a yellow card to restrictions on protests!

8 May 2014

As Brazil comes into the spotlight ahead of the 2014 World Cup, Amnesty International is launching a new global campaign urging authorities to ensure security forces “play by the rules” during demonstrations expected to take place ahead of and during the tournament.


Controls on military assistance to Somalia must be tightened

21 January 2010

Arms transfers should be suspended until there are adequate safeguards to prevent weapons from being used to commit war crimes and human rights abuses, says Amnesty International.

How to Apply Human Rights Standards to Arms Transfer Decisions

1 October 2008

In order to achieve a more effective regulation of the international arms trade, all international transfers of conventional weaponry, munitions and equipment should be carried out in accordance with states’ legal obligations. All states have obligations under international human rights law applicable to transfers of conventional arms. The purpose of this document is to assist states and regional organisations in applying their human rights obligations. It proposes guidelines for assessing the risk of a proposed transfer being used for serious violations of human rights.

Arms Trade Treaty could fail without human rights

17 September 2008

Every year, more than 300,000 people are killed with conventional weapons. Millions more are injured, abused, forcibly displaced and bereaved as a result of armed v