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Human Rights and the Arms Trade

    August 29, 2016

    By Rasha Mohamed and Rasha Abdul Rahim

    The airstrike on Abs Rural Hospital in Yemen's Hajjah governorate on 15 August was the fourth attack on a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in 10 months. That didn't lessen the shock.

    Sixteen-year-old ambulance driver Ayman Issa Bakri was among the 10 dead. He had been working there since MSF began supporting the hospital in the summer of 2015. When his body was found near the impact site, he was still holding the woman he had been transferring from the ambulance to the A&E.

    Shortly after, MSF announced it was winding up its operations in Yemen; it is hard to imagine the despair that Yemenis feel when the only hospital for miles disappears.

    At the site of the ruined hospital, Amnesty International identified remnants of bombs that appear to have been manufactured either in the USA or the UK. This would be consistent with what we know about prolific arms exports by these countries to Saudi Arabia and other members of its military coalition.

    February 02, 2016

    By Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada. Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexNeveAmnesty

    There has been considerable debate recently about the revelations that Ottawa’s Algonquin College (as well as Niagara College in Welland) has reached a lucrative deal to operate a campus in Saudi Arabia that will offer courses to men only.

    It puts a third story about Canadian connections to human rights concerns in Saudi Arabia on the public record. That unenviable statistic is, sadly, not at all surprising. Amnesty International released a briefing paper this month in which we documented a sharp deterioration in respect for human rights in Saudi Arabia over the past year, including a serious clampdown on free expression and deeply troubling findings that Saudi forces that have intervened in the conflict in neighbouring Yemen have been responsible for extensive violations, including war crimes.

    August 26, 2015

    By Marek Marczynski, Head of Amnesty International’s Military, Security and Police team at the International Secretariat. Follow Marek on Twitter @MarekMarczynski. You can also follow discussions and developments at the ATT Conference of States Parties on Twitter via the @AmnestyATT account.

    The recent explosions that apparently destroyed a 2,000-year-old temple in the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria were yet another grim example of how the armed group calling itself the Islamic State (IS) uses conventional weapons to further its agenda.

    But what has fuelled the IS’s growing firepower? The answer lies in recent history – arms flows to the Middle East dating back as far as the 1970s have played a role.

    After taking control of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in June 2014, IS fighters paraded a windfall of mainly US-manufactured weapons and military vehicles which had been sold or given to the Iraqi armed forces.

    August 25, 2015

    As the Arms Trade Treaty's first Conference of States Parties convenes in Cancún, Mexico from 24-27 August, Amnesty International is campaigning for transparency in all aspects of the arms trade, including comprehensive state reporting on the scale and range of their arms imports and exports.

    Weapons and ammunition in circulation

    July 10, 2015

    By Marek Marczynski, Head of Military, Security and Police at Amnesty International. Follow Marek on Twitter @MarekMarczynski.

    Every year, roughly half a million people are killed by firearms, many of which have been transferred irresponsibly.

    The poorly controlled flow of arms also fuels conflicts in which millions more die because of mass displacement and loss of access to basic health care clean water and food.

    In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, it is estimated that more than five million people have died since 1998 as an indirect result of armed conflict.

    In order to address this global challenge, Amnesty International – alongside other civil society groups and victims of armed violence – advocated for an international treaty to regulate the global transfer of arms.

    We argued that arms should not be sent to places where they are likely to be used to commit serious human rights violations.

    Those massive campaigning efforts resulted in the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which came into force on 24 December 2014.

    September 26, 2014

    By Hilary Homes (Amnesty International Canada), Robert Fox (Oxfam Canada) and Ken Epps (Project Ploughshares)

    Long a significant advocate of global arms control, Canada will be conspicuously absent next year from arguably the most important conventional weapons conference of this generation.

    At a special ceremony taking place in New York today (Sept 25), diplomats will celebrate the fact that fifty countries have now ratified the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), a landmark agreement to reduce the serious harm caused by the irresponsible and illegal trade in conventional weapons, including allies like the UK, Mexico, Germany and France. Canada has yet to sign or ratify, even though Canada voted in favour of the treaty in April last year.

    Now the landmark figure of 50 has been reached - with or without Canada - the Treaty will enter into force in 90 days time and become international law.

    March 28, 2013

    Campaigner Hilary Homes on today's negotiations

    Once upon a time, treaty negotiations literally took place behind closed doors. Unless you had some good friends among the delegates, you had to wait until the very end to know the results.  Much of this month’s Arms Trade Treaty negotiations have not been covered by the media. But in the internet age I could virtually be there monitoring Amnesty delegates’ Twitter accounts while tuning into the live feed from the United Nations.

    After two decades of work to develop a treaty, the procedural delays around just getting the delegations into the room were nerve-racking. Would we or would we not finally have an Arms Trade Treaty?  Hurry up and vote! Once things got underway, however, it wasn’t long before Iran, Syria and North Korea blocked the consensus needed to finalize the treaty.  Though several states argued for adoption anyway, UN procedure means a return to another venue on another day, most likely the General Assembly itself.

    November 27, 2012

    By Ann Harrison, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme

    Damage to an apartment building in Rishon LeZion, outside Tel Aviv, from rockets fired from Gaza © Amnesty International.


    It was dawn when we arrived in Israel to begin our investigation into rocket attacks from Gaza which by the end of the latest flare in violence had left six Israelis, including four civilians, dead, at least 40 injured and 300 more treated for shock.

    Up in the sky oddly shaped vapour trails made us wonder if these were the remnants of the “Iron Dome” missiles – used to intercept the rockets fired by Palestinian armed groups which this time reached as far north as Tel Aviv.