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

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.

Turkey: Riot police in reprehensible crackdown on peaceful May Day protest

1 May 2014

The use of tear gas and water cannon against peaceful protesters today by police in Istanbul is a reprehensible move to crack down on free expression and peaceful assembly, Amnesty International said. 

New global coalition urges governments to keep surveillance technologies in check

4 April 2014

World leaders must commit to keeping invasive surveillance systems and technologies out of the hands of dictators and oppressive regimes, said a new global coalition of human rights organizations as it launched today in Brussels. 


Q&A: Coalition Against Unlawful Surveillance Exports (CAUSE)

4 April 2014

The Coalition Against Unlawful Surveillance Exports (CAUSE) brings together leading global and national human rights and other NGOs, who are all calling for governments to take action on the international trade in communication surveillance technologies.

UN: Atrocities fuelled by inaction on Arms Trade Treaty promises

1 April 2014

Millions of people around the world will continue to suffer the deadly consequences of the poorly regulated global trade in weapons until many more governments take rapid steps to bring the Arms Trade Treaty into force.



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.