Arms control and human rights


After twenty years of global campaigning, on 2 April 2013, governments at the United Nations voted overwhelmingly to adopt a global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT); since then over a hundred states have signed and many of those have started to ratify the Treaty. The rules, if implemented, will stop a wide range of arms flows when the sending state knows those weapons would be used for human atrocities and abuse. States that are parties to the Treaty will meet and report regularly, and can strengthen it over time.


This 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.


Now the ATT has been adopted, there is an urgent need to put pressure on governments to sign, ratify and implement the Treaty. 50 ratifications will bring the Treaty into force, but we must keep pushing to get as many states as possible to implement the Treaty. Only then will the Treaty have the potential to save lives and livelihoods.


War crimes, unlawful killings, torture and other serious human rights abuses have been committed around the world using a wide range of weapons, munitions and military and security equipment. These are often provided to perpetrators in almost unlimited supply, encouraging and prolonging unlawful violence. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, injured, raped and forced to flee from their homes as a result; governments continue to license irresponsible arms flows to fuel human atrocities and abuse.


In the early 1990s Amnesty International began calling for a treaty to ensure that states stop allowing transfers of military and policing equipment where it is likely those arms will be used for serious human rights abuses. In 2003 Amnesty International launched an international campaigning with civil society for a global Arms Trade Treaty to set rules for the strict regulation of the international transfers of conventional arms.


Our message is simple – if there is a substantial risk that arms exported to another country will contribute to serious human rights abuses or war crimes, those arms supplies must be stopped.


No more arms for atrocities or abuses!

Ongoing threats to human rights worldwide are posed by the irresponsible transfer not only of existing conventional arms and military equipment but also of policing equipment. In addition to this, new military and policing technologies are presenting new international challenges to human rights. Amnesty International also researches and takes action on problems posed by the trade and use of inhumane weapons of warfare, robotic weapons, ‘less lethal’ weapons used in policing and prisons and the trade in equipment used for torture.


News and Updates

Libya: Civilian deaths from NATO airstrikes must be properly investigated

19 March 2012

A new report documents how scores of Libyan civilians not involved in the fighting were killed and injured, most in their homes, as a result of NATO airstrikes.

Halt ships of shame from the USA carrying weapons to Egypt

15 March 2012

A ship en route from the USA to Egypt is carrying arms which could be used by Egyptian security forces to commit human rights violations.

Clinton must reveal final recipient of military cargo

15 March 2012

The US Navy says a cargo of weapons with explosives en route to Port Said will not be offloaded in any Egyptian port.

Arms trade talks: Political chess games at UN risk millions of lives

17 February 2012

A small group of countries wants to effectively secure a veto over any global Arms Trade Treaty, while others are attempting to water down human rights safeguards.

UN: Key talks open on treaty to end arms flow to atrocities

13 February 2012

Talks are under way at the UN to agree a comprehensive treaty to regulate the global arms trade, due to be finalized later this year.


Sudan: No end to violence in Darfur: Arms supplies continue despite ongoing human rights violations

24 April 2012

The supply of various types of weapons, munitions and related equipment to Sudan in recent years, by the governments of Belarus, the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation, have allowed the Sudanese authorities to use their army, paramilitary forces, and government-backed militias to carry out grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Sudan. This ongoing flow of new arms to Darfur has sustained a brutal nine-year conflict which shows little sign of resolution.

No arms for atrocities or abuses: Commit to an effective Arms Trade Treaty

23 January 2012

Each year, the global trade in conventional arms carries an enormous human cost. In July 2012, UN member states will be invited to the UN conference to negotiate an Arms Trade Treaty. Now is the time to ensure that the Treaty contains the highest possible common standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms. This briefing documents five personal stories in the context of human rights violations committed or facilitated using conventional arms in law enforcement or military operations.

Arms trade to Middle East and North Africa shows failure of export controls

19 October 2011

A number of key arms manufacturing countries supplied large quantities of weapons to repressive governments in the Middle East and North Africa.

Key elements for implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)

13 July 2011

This document lists suggested key elements for “creating high common international standards” for national systems of licensing or authorisation for the export, import and other international transfers of conventional arms. It also sets out Amnesty International's position on key transparency measures and victim assistance.

Arms for Internal Security: Will they be covered by an Arms Trade Treaty?

17 June 2011

There is now a chance in the UN to establish a global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) setting out commonly-agreed rules for strict national regulation and international monitoring of the trade and transfer of conventional arms. This briefing paper includes Amnesty International's proposal for the inclusion of the scope of equipment into an ATT including an indicative list of the conventional arms and a summary definition. It also includes examples of conventional arms that may, inadvertently, be excluded from the scope of the ATT.

Our Right to Know: Transparent Reporting under an Arms Trade Treaty

13 June 2011

Public reporting is a key means by which the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) will become more than a set of obligations and actually affect States’ behaviour. Fully transparent reporting will build confidence amongst States and provide a basis for States and civil society to assess how the ATT is being applied in practice. This document focuses on why States should transparently report on their international arms trade and transfers. It also provides a brief overview of transparency initiatives to date, and outlines how a reporting mechanism could be incorporated into the Treaty.

How an Arms Trade Treaty can help prevent armed violence

2 March 2011

Current United Nations discussions on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) provide an opportunity to examine armed violence in the context of decisions concerning international transfers of conventional arms used in armed violence. This report is divided into two parts. Part I examines how an ATT with a clearly elaborated risk assessment process can make a contribution to the prevention and reduction of armed violence. Part II focuses on firearms-related homicide and emphasises the importance of adopting an approach to addressing armed violence that will encompass violence outside of armed conflict settings.

States failing to control movement of weapons to human rights abusers

19 July 2010

A new Amnesty International report, shows how transport companies are able to move conventional weapons and munitions to countries where they could be used to commit rights violations and war crimes.

Deadly Movements: Transportation Controls in the Arms Trade Treaty

19 July 2010

The proposed Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) should be designed to prevent unauthorised or irresponsible international transfers of weapons, munitions and related equipment internationally. This briefing note explains that inadequate regulation of arms transportation is a global problem, not confined to jurisdictions with weak arms transfer controls. The Arms Trade Treaty provides a critical opportunity to define high common international standards to address the adequate regulation of the physical movement of conventional arms.

Reform of security forces in Guinea must deliver justice for Bloody Monday massacre

23 February 2010

A new Amnesty International report documents extrajudicial executions, torture and other ill-treatment carried out by particular units of Guinea's armed forces last year.