Spot the difference: what weapons should be included in the #Armstreaty?

July 20 2012, 8:49 AM  by Oistein Thorsen

The discussions on the potential scope (“Covered items”) of the ATT has been dominated by States rifling off their preferred weapons for inclusion or exclusion as if the treaty was simply an attempt to regulate trade.

A comprehensive, loophole free, scope is vital for an ATT whose stated purpose and key objective is to prevent human suffering caused by the irresponsible transfer of conventional arms, including via their diversion to illicit end-users. If you don’t capture all the conventional weaponry and related material that is used to facilitate human suffering, then the ATT isn’t able to fulfil it’s goals and principles.

There is no standard international definition of a small arm or light weapon designed for sporting and hunting purposes. Shotguns for example are used for hunting as well as military and law enforcement operations, there is no material difference between them, they are identical. There is no practical difference between a specialist rifle used for sports shooting and one used for specialist military or law enforcement – the weapons are identical in terms of calibre, ammunition, range and specification.

The ATT is a regulatory treaty with a risk based authorisation process, which should be able to differentiate between small arms for legitimate purposes (such as hunting and sports shooting) and small arms that risk being supplied or diverted to those that will use them to commit serious violations human rights and international humanitarian law.

By focussing purely on “military items” there is a danger that an inadvertant loophole will be created by excluding the same weapons used for non-military purposes, like law enforcement and internal security. In simple terms, an armoured machine gun mounted military vehicle could be simply re-classified as a “police vehicle’ painted blue, despite being identical in everything but colour to the vehicle supplied to the military.

We urge States to call for comprehensive definitions and clear language to make sure that all conventional weapons and related equipment are captured in the scope of the ATT. There should be no loopholes and exceptions when dealing with items with such capacity to inflict human suffering.

This blog was written by Oliver Sprague, Amnesty International, UK.

Follow Olly’s #armstreaty tweets @OllySprague.