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: Landmark Arms Trade Treaty to become reality with 50th ratification

25 September 2014

Protection for the millions of people whose lives are devastated by the poorly regulated global arms trade is set to take a giant leap forward, with the historic Arms Trade Treaty expected to surpass the 50 ratifications needed to trigger its entry into force.


Ukraine: Mounting evidence of war crimes and Russian involvement

7 September 2014

 Satellite images revealed by Amnesty International indicate a build-up of Russian armour and artillery in eastern Ukraine. 

Q&A - South Sudan: A nation awash with arms

21 August 2014

South Sudan is awash with weapons and thousands of people have been killed as government and opposition forces commit grave human rights violations and abuses. 

Stop US shipment of fuel to Israel's armed forces as evidence of Gaza war crimes mounts

4 August 2014

Amnesty International is appealing to the US government to immediately halt the transfer of a US fuel shipment currently on its way to Israel for use by the Israeli military.

USA: Stop arms transfers to Israel amid growing evidence of war crimes in Gaza

31 July 2014

The US government must immediately end its ongoing deliveries of large quantities of arms to Israel, which are providing the tools to commit further serious violations of international law in Gaza, said Amnesty International, as it called for a total arms embargo on all parties to the conflict. 


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