Further Progress Towards an Arms Trade Treaty

Kenneth Epps

Kenneth Epps

The Ploughshares Monitor Autumn 2007 Volume 28 Issue 3

UN member states voted overwhelmingly in favour of the UN General Assembly (GA) resolution “Towards an Arms Trade Treaty” in late 2006.1 In 2007 written submissions from many UN member states demonstrated mostly positive views on an ATT. Pushed by the concerted advocacy efforts of civil society members of the “Control Arms” campaign, governments around the world are recognizing the case for a legally binding convention to apply international legal obligations to arms transfers.

The GA resolution called for states to submit their views on the “feasibility, scope and draft parameters” for an ATT and for the Secretary-General to report a summary of these views to the GA in the fall of 2007. By early August 92 states — a large number for a UN exercise of this kind — had made submissions, many of which were made public and available on the Control Arms website (2007).

Based on the public submissions, there is widespread belief that an arms trade treaty is necessary and feasible and that its scope should cover a broad range of conventional weapons. Most states called for the treaty parameters to include human rights law and international humanitarian law as important criteria for authorizing arms transfers.

As with the GA resolution beforehand, the momentous participation of UN members in the submission process was largely due to the worldwide advocacy efforts of civil society groups. During the period when states were due to report to the Secretary-General, nongovernmental members of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), as well as affiliated members of Amnesty International and Oxfam International, conducted “people’s consultations” on the ATT in over 40 countries around the globe, including Canada (IANSA 2007). These consultations served both to present the experiences of civil society groups that grapple with the consequences of armed violence (and hence to underline the urgency of an ATT) and to pressure governments to make formal submissions to the UN.

Early in the submission period the Arms Trade Treaty Steering Committee (ATTSC), an NGO group of which Project Ploughshares is a member, drafted “an NGO perspective” on the ATT. The document was translated into all UN languages and widely circulated among member states (ATTSC 2007). Its effectiveness was demonstrated by the significant number of state submissions that drew on the NGO text.

The Canadian government (2007) submitted its views on the ATT by the original deadline of April 30. Its submission called for early negotiation of a legally binding instrument establishing common standards for conventional weapons transfers based on state obligations under international law and customary legal standards. It also affirmed the “global principles” proposed by the ATTSC as a “useful framework” for negotiation of core ATT principles. More recently, the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs established an internal team to follow and participate in the UN ATT process. Project Ploughshares and its Control Arms partners in Canada (Oxfam and Amnesty International) met with the team of officials in Ottawa in June to brief them on NGO developments and concerns related to the ATT.

Following his report to the UN General Assembly in the fall, the Secretary-General will establish a group of governmental experts (GGE) to study the same set of ATT issues covered by the state submissions. The GGE is scheduled to meet three times between February and August 2008 and to present a report later in the same year. There is widespread interest among states, including Canada, in participating in the GGE and it is not clear that all interested states will be accommodated.

The task for civil society groups through this period will be to ensure that the GGE has compelling evidence of the feasibility of an ATT and of the need that a convention be based on core global principles derived from international law. With a strong set of recommendations from the group of governmental experts, the process can move efficiently to the next stage — likely an “open-ended working group” of states that will begin construction of a global Arms Trade Treaty.



  1. For more background information, see Epps 2007.


Arms Trade Treaty Steering Committee. 2007. Assessing the feasibility, scope and parameters of an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT): an NGO perspective. Oxford: Oxfam.

Canada, Government of. 2007. Canadian Submission On The Arms Trade Treaty (Resolution 61/89).

Control Arms. 2007.

Epps, Ken. 2007. Landmark step towards an international arms trade treaty. The Ploughshares Monitor. Spring, pp. 21-22.

IANSA. 2007. Control Arms: The People’s Consultation on an ATT.

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