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International: Botswana, Canada Ratify Arms Trade Treaty

(Sept. 17, 2019) In June 2019, Canada and Botswana each ratified the United Nations’ Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), becoming the 103rd and 104th states to join the ATT. The ATT will enter into force for Botswana and Canada in September 2019, 90 days after their ratifications. Botswana will become the 26th African country to join the ATT.

By ratifying the ATT, both Canada and Botswana must take domestic measures to monitor the international transfer of arms.

Background of ATT

The ATT entered into force on December 24, 2014, with the goal of bringing accountability and transparency to the global arms trade. The United States initially supported and actively participated in the negotiations on the treaty. However, the current US administration has indicated it opposes its ratification.

The ATT’s adoption was generally welcomed internationally, as before its existence, the international trade in conventional arms was largely unregulated in comparison with other goods. For instance, the World Trade Organization explicitly exempts the transfer of arms from the scope of its regulation.

ATT at a Glance

 The novel provisions of the ATT include the following:

  • The requirement that state parties establish and maintain national control systems to monitor the transfer of conventional arms
  • The prohibition of transferring arms to states if the transfer would violate “obligations under measures adopted by the United Nations Security Council acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, in particular arms embargoes” or under other “relevant international obligations,” or if the state “has knowledge at the time of authorization that the arms or items would be used in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, attacks directed against civilian objects or civilians protected as such, or other war crimes”

Years of sometimes contentious discussions preceded the ATT’s entry into force. The United Nations General Assembly marked official discussion of a multilateral instrument to regulate the trade in conventional arms in 2006 with Resolution 61/81, which stated that “the absence of common international standards on the import, export and transfer of conventional arms is a contributory factor to conflict, the displacement of people, crime and terrorism, thereby undermining peace, reconciliation, safety, security, stability and sustainable development.”

Prior to the signing of the ATT, Ban Ki Moon noted in his remarks to the Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty that

[t]he world is overarmed and peace is underfunded. Military spending is on the rise. Today, it is well above $1 trillion a year. Let us look at Africa alone. Between 1990 and 2005, 23 African countries lost an estimated $284 billion as a result of armed conflicts, fuelled by transfers of ammunition and arms—95 per cent of which came from outside Africa. And globally, 60 years of United Nations peacekeeping operations have cost less than six weeks of current military spending.

Developing countries continue to be the focus of studies on international arms sales, as arms trade agreements between developed and developing countries made up 86% of all the arms transfer agreements as of 2014, with an annual value of approximately $62 billion.