An official website of the United States government

EOV: “Impact of arms transfers on human rights in armed conflicts.”
September 27, 2013

Explanation of Vote

Statement of the Delegation of the United States of America
UN Human Rights Council – 24th Session

September 27, 2013

The United States holds dearly the importance of promoting and protecting the human rights of all persons, particularly those who are most vulnerable, and in that regard, we are deeply committed to preventing and eradicating the illicit trade in conventional arms.  The United States strongly supports the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and signed the treaty two days ago in New York.

Nonetheless, we cannot support this resolution, which suffers from several shortcomings.

First, it is imperative that the international community speak with one voice in addressing the illicit international trade in arms and it has already done so through the UN General Assembly adoption earlier this year of the ATT.  Article 7 of the Arms Trade Treaty provides that exporting States Parties shall, prior to authorizing the export of conventional arms or items covered by the treaty, assess the potential that such arms or items would contribute to or undermine peace and security and could be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) or human rights law, among other factors.  It further provides that if, after conducting this assessment and considering available mitigating measures, the exporting State Party determines that there is an overriding risk of serious violations of IHL or human rights law, the exporting State shall not authorize the export.  This resolution articulates a different standard than that of the Arms Trade Treaty.  More broadly, we are concerned that this resolution suggests the Human Rights Council should play a role in defining or revising this standard.

Additionally, the resolution appears to suggest that exports of conventional arms to states affected by armed conflict are or should be governed in a different manner than exports of conventional arms to states that are not affected by armed conflict.  This contradicts the ATT, which clearly notes that there is no difference in the legal regime applicable to the export of conventional arms to states affected by armed conflict vs. other states.  Furthermore, situations of armed conflict trigger the application of international humanitarian law as the lex specialis.  This resolution does not appropriately recognize that important principle and is not focused on universal human rights, which is the mandate of the Human Rights Council.

We urge all States to take effective action to hold accountable individuals who commit human rights violations through use of conventional arms.

The resolution also fails to make the essential distinction between a legitimate commercial activity – the responsible international trade in conventional arms – that can foster and promote international peace and security, and the illicit trade in conventional arms that can contribute to violence and insecurity.

In summary, the multi-year negotiation process that culminated in the July 2012 and March 2013 UN Conferences on the Arms Trade Treaty provided ample opportunities to address constructively a variety of issues related to conventional arms transfers.  The Human Rights Council is not an appropriate forum to build upon, or otherwise revisit those discussions.

The UN Arms Trade Treaty is now open for signature and the United States hopes that Member States can focus on implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty so that its potential to curb the destructive impact of the illicit and damaging trade in conventional arms may begin to be realized.