Many governments claim they are very committed to the Women, Peace and Security agenda. Yet, somehow, the Arms Trade Treaty is being treated differently and is considered to represent a separate set of issues, even though one of its outcomes will surely be to help prevent insecurity and conflict.

Stating the obvious: the ATT is about peace and security

Unsurprisingly conventional arms, and in particular, small arms and light weapons (SALW), play a central role in armed conflict. Despite this obvious fact, discussions and action to deal with the presence and use of SALW often remain absent in debates around peace and security and explicit links are still not being made. It is as if the presence of small arms is inevitable, somehow unavoidable and this prevents them from being recognised as facilitators of human rights violations, tools of intimidation, domination and violence. It is clear that women’s security is at risk in many ways during armed conflict, and for many gender-specific reasons. In the words of UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, addressing the Security Council on 7 August 2009, “Like a grenade or a gun, sexual violence is a part of the arsenal of parties to armed conflict to pursue military, political, social and economic aims. Beyond the enormous toll on victims, sexual violence in armed conflict hurts recovery and peacebuilding.”

In Resolution 64/48 on the Arms Trade Treaty (2009), the General Assembly recognised that “arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation are essential for the maintenance of international peace and security”.

The Arms Trade Treaty is a key opportunity to make the Women, Peace and Security agenda a reality and to show serious commitment to protecting women and girls.

Including gender-based violence in the criteria means that licensing authorities should pay specific attention to gender-based violence and the risks of approving a potential transfer, including import, export, re-export, temporary transfer, transhipment, loan, gift, and aid, on the rights of women. This is consistent with States’ “Women, Peace and Security” commitments because it ensures that a gender perspective and consideration of women’s rights is integrated into the ATT, an important initiative “for the maintenance of international peace and security”, as stated by the UN General Assembly.

It’s not just about “principle”

Some UN member states and civil society colleagues say that, in principle, it would be ‘nice’ to see gender-based violence mentioned in the text, but claim that the most important part of the treaty is its ‘technical aspect’. Of course, the technical aspect is important, but so is the human impact and potential of the ATT to prevent violence and save lives. If there is systematic and widespread gender-based violence, according to a government’s risk assessment, should the licensing authority approve the arms transfer? Moral and technical issues simply cannot be separated. They are intrinsically linked. Surely one of the central objectives of the Treaty is to prevent arms from being transferred where atrocities are being committed?

Gender-based violence is not “subjective”

Including gender-based violence in the criteria of the ATT means respecting existing international law on the rights and protection of women and girls as civilians, obligations shared by all UN Member States. These rights are not explicit within the UN Charter or the Geneva Convention and other instruments of international law traditionally used by diplomats in the disarmament community but they have been elaborated by the Security Council resolutions and other international law. Therefore they are part of the international legal framework that is relevant to the ATT, and must be considered and included.

In October 2000, the UN Security Council unanimously approved Resolution 1325, which, for the first time, recognised women’s needs in wartime and post-conflict situations, in all their roles from victims to peacebuilders. The Resolution addresses all UN Member States and all parties to armed conflicts to focus on peace and security matters in a coherent and gender sensitive manner. Since then, four other UN Security Council resolutions have been passed to strengthen the international agenda on women, peace and security.

UNSCR 1325 calls upon all parties to armed conflict to fully respect international law applicable to the rights and protection of women and girls as civilians. UNSCR 1820 stresses that “sexual violence, when used or commissioned as a tactic of war in order to deliberately target civilians or as a part of a widespread or systematic attack against civilian populations, can significantly exacerbate situations of armed conflict and may impede the restoration of international peace and security”. UNSCR 1889 strongly condemns all violations of applicable international law committed against women and girls in situations of armed conflicts and post-conflict situations, and demands all parties to conflicts to cease such acts with immediate effect.

A strong and effective ATT will therefore support and complement the broader goals of UN Security Council Resolutions on women, peace and security by reducing conflict and fostering an environment for post-conflict peacebuilding.

To date, 34 countries have National Action Plans on UNSCR 1325 and many more have committed to do so.

Conflict environments, characterised by a breakdown in the rule of law and a prevailing climate of impunity, create the conditions whereby both State and non-state parties, emboldened by their weapons, power and status, essentially enjoy free reign to inflict sexual violence. This has far-reaching implications for efforts to consolidate peace and secure development. In a number of contemporary conflicts, sexual violence has taken on particularly brutal dimensions, sometimes as a means of pursuing military, political, social and economic objectives, perpetrated mainly against civilians in direct violation of international humanitarian, human rights and criminal law.

Every day women are suffering from the misuse and abuse of small arms in our homes, communities and countries. The international community, the UN Security Council, the delegates here in New York, can approve the strongest text to provide the most rigorous provisions in support of women, peace and security.

Now, an Arms Trade Treaty that really does support and complement the women, peace and security agenda can become a reality. Now is the time to show your commitment.

Resources on the links between Women, Peace and Security and SALW control

Joined-Up Thinking: International Measures for Women’s Security and SALW Control (2010)
By Cynthia Dehesa and Sarah Masters

Women peace and security: The role of an Arms Trade Treaty (2009)

The Arms Trade Treaty: An Important Opportunity to Prevent Gender Based Violence at Gunpoint (2012)