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United for an effective Arms Trade Treaty

Yasmín Espinoza Goecke
Co-coordinator of the "Arms Control Campaign" in Amnesty International-Chile
Yasmín Espinoza Goecke

Yasmín Espinoza Goecke

During the 10 years I have been working in Amnesty International- Chile, I never thought I would be directly involved in such a relevant process. I come from a region, Latin America, highly affected by the presence of armed violence: feminicide, organized crime, homicide or gun violence related to drug trafficking are part of everyday life in the region.

Even though Chile´s situation is not as serious compared to other countries in the region, we do have an increase on the impact of gun violence in recent times: for instance, in 2005 the number of wounded people due to gun violence in Chile was 1.207, and only between January and September of 2011 the number of injured by guns was 1.957, which shows a continuous increase over time.1 Moreover, given the rise of the sense of insecurity and of the negative perception of the system of justice, people are turning more to the use of weapons to protect themselves.

This issue should be of concern not only as a security matter but also as a worrying symptom of the quality of our democracy and the capacity of states to effectively comply with their duty to protect human rights of their citizens. The lack of gun control and the proliferation of gun violence contribute to the deterioration of state institutions, and undermine the development processes in the region.

Back in 2004, as a women´s rights coordinator, I was confronted to the consequences of gun violence in countries, such as Colombia, Guatemala or México. The first question I had to face was; what could we do to effectively protect human rights? Taking into account the consecrated right of states to defend themselves contained in the UN Chart, how could we make states accountable to promote a responsible trade of weapons while ensuring that states' abilities to lawfully sell, acquire and possess arms were not undermined? It is a difficult equilibrium but if there is political will it is an achievable goal.

As I started co-coordinating the ArmS Control Campaign in Chile and begun to attend the Amnesty lobby team in the UN, I realized how challenging and rewarding this work would turn to be.

The main challenge we face is to agree on a legally binding instrument that would lay down the highest common standards on the import, export and transfer of conventional arms to prevent weapons from ending up in the illicit market; establish risk assessment systems for states to make sure that those arms would not be used to commit serious human rights violations; and implement proper transparency mechanisms.

Regarding the first point, some countries, including a few from Latin America, would prefer to have weak criteria on human rights and IHL, basing on the argument that these criteria would not be objective and could be politically used by state powers to prevent smaller states from acquiring weapons. Nevertheless, this is far from reality. As Susan Waltz from Amnesty stated, "you don't build a ship without a rudder... If the final text fails to link legitimate transfers to principles centered in international human rights and humanitarian law, future arms transfers will be constrained only by the real-politik of Security Council resolutions and the patchwork of existing regional and national laws and regulations."2

On the other hand, implementing adequate reporting and monitoring is crucial for the success of the treaty. Some countries in the region are not in favor of compulsory and comprehensive reporting, stating that there are already "too many reports" and that it could "undermine national sovereignty".

Indeed, there are a number of international and regional transparency reports such as the UNROCA or the UNPOA. However, only a small number of states report on an annual basis. The process of collecting information for a legally binding ATT could also serve to submit this information to the voluntary UN instruments already in place3. So, instead of thinking on the fatigue caused by "too many reports", states could reflect on how to improve the efficiency of the reporting mechanism in their countries.

The supposed risk to sovereignty does nott have real grounds because, in a world marked by globalization and wikileaks, secret is no longer an option. Also, the information requested would contribute to increase the sense of transparency and to improve mutual international trust.

Despite the difficulties we have faced on this process so far and the challenge of accomplishing a legally binding instrument that would effectively protect human rights, we have proved that a different world is possible. Against all odds we are approaching the Diplomatic Conference with the hope of fulfilling this objective. Even though it might not include everything we hope for, we will put all our efforts in accomplishing a treaty that would serve its purpose to protect human rights, a real bullet-proof treaty.

1. Diagnóstico básico en materia legislación y acciones con respecto a Armas de fuego y Municiones." Coalición Latinoamericana Para la Prevención de la Violencia Armada. CLAVE. Yasmín Espinoza Goecke. (Back)

2. Towards an Arm Trade Treaty" prepared remarks by Susan Waltz, on behalf of Amnesty International, at Nobel Peace Laureates panel on drafting an Effective Arms Trade Treaty, hosted by UN Permanent Mission of Costa Rica, February 14, 2012. (Back)

3. Implementing Arms Trade Treaty. Lessons on Reporting and Monitoring from Existing Mechanism". Paul Holton and Mark Bromley. SIPRI. Policy Paper 28. July 2011. P.5. (Back)