Global Arms Trade Treaty – A Beginners’ Guide


Amnesty International provides a quick lesson on the Arms Trade.

On 2 April 2013, after 20 years of determined lobbying and campaigning by Amnesty International and partner NGOs, the UN General Assembly voted decisively to adopt the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) text. Now the treaty is on the cusp of becoming international law which could change the lives of millions.

Amnesty International’s arms expert Brian Wood explains how the uncontrolled flow of arms is ruining millions of lives and decimating entire communities, as well as why this treaty is so historic.


How did the idea of the Arms Trade Treaty come about? 

The idea started in late 1993 in an Amnesty International office in central London, where three other UK NGO representatives and I developed ideas for a legal instrument to stop arms trading that contributes to human rights violations.

In the 1920s and 1930s the imperial powers proposed an arms trade treaty but without any common rules for protecting human rights, so their efforts collapsed in the lead up to the Second World War.

With help from lawyers at Cambridge and Essex Universities and from Nobel Peace Laureates, especially Oscar Arias, our NGO advocacy efforts spread from Europe to the Americas, attracting the support of John Kerry in the US Congress.

From 2003 the civil society campaign initiated by Amnesty, Oxfam and IANSA, a network of hundreds of NGOs working on small arms, went increasingly global. The call for an Arms Trade Treaty or ATT with a “golden rule” to protect human rights began to be debated in the United Nations.


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