Building Good Practice for the Arms Trade Treaty’s Article 7 Export Assessment

Anna Crowe, Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, and Jillian Rafferty, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

Two new civil society publications, presented during last month’s Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) working group meetings, seek to assist states parties in effectively implementing the treaty’s export assessment provision, Article 7. Article 7 requires, among other things, that every proposed arms export is assessed against the risk that it could be used to commit or facilitate human rights violations, gender-based violence, terrorist acts, or acts supporting transnational organized crime. Proper implementation of this provision is crucial to ensuring that the treaty achieves its humanitarian goals.

A pile of 5.56mm ammunition rounds. Credit: Defence Images.
Credit: Defence Images 2011

The Arms Trade Treaty’s Gender-Based Violence Risk Assessment: A Questionnaire for Information Sources, authored by the Stimson Center and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, focuses on compliance with ATT Article 7(4). This provision requires states parties reviewing proposed arms exports to account for the risk of gender-based violence (GBV), a form of violence prevalent in every part of the world. The guidance in the new report helps licensing officers—government officials charged with undertaking Article 7’s export assessment—to obtain useful and comprehensive information on GBV risk. While many governments and individual licensing officers are committed to assessing GBV risk as part of their arms export licensing processes, there is currently a gap in implementation in this area. The Clinic-Stimson publication aims to help close this gap by offering licensing officers guidance on how to obtain from their own governments information that would promote compliance.

The publication contains a set of 10 key questions that licensing officers should ask information sources—other officials in their own government, such as diplomats in the export’s proposed destination (the recipient state)—to help determine the GBV risk a proposed export would pose. For example, licensing officers should ask about the extent and severity of GBV in the recipient state, as well as the human rights record of the entity that would receive the export (often part of the recipient state’s security apparatus). They should ask additional questions that address the connection among the particular type of arms the exporter hopes to export, the intended users of the arms, and GBV in the recipient state. The publication also provides extensive explanatory guidance to help information sources answer these questions, including examples of the types of information they could provide.

Arms Exports, Terror and Crime: Reducing Risk under the Arms Trade Treaty, published by Saferworld, focuses on two provisions of the ATT’s risk assessment that have largely been neglected to date: Article 7(1)(b)(iii) and 7(1)(b)(iv). Together, those provisions require that states parties assess the risk that exported arms could be used to commit or facilitate offenses under international law relating to terrorism and to transnational organized crime.

As with the rest of the Article 7 risk assessment, these provisions are central to exporting states’ decisions to license exports of conventional arms, ammunition, and parts and components covered by the ATT. But discussion of the provisions on terrorism and transnational organized crime, unlike the rest of Article 7, has been minimal to date. The Saferworld briefing paper, initially presented to the organization’s ATT Expert Group, aims to fill that gap by identifying relevant offenses under conventions and protocols relating to terrorism and organized crime, explaining key legal terms in the ATT provisions, and providing states parties with practical guidance on how to implement those provisions robustly and in good faith.

The reports’ authors presented both publications at a side event to the ATT’s working group meetings in April that explored tools for effective export risk assessment. The side event, which was hosted by Switzerland and co-sponsored by Ireland and Panama, drew participants from dozens of states and civil society organizations. After a series of presentations from seven panelists, it ended with a lively Q&A session.

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