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Statement on the need for a strong and effective arms trade treaty

The WCC affirms an arms trade treaty as a legal instrument that has three complementary tasks. It must prevent arms transfers to states where the government poses a threat to its own people or to other states. It must improve trade controls so that, where there is a high risk of re-export or diversion to organized criminals or armed groups, arms smuggling and black market sales are reduced or stopped. The ATT must also serve to protect communities and save lives.

17 February 2012

WCC Executive Committee
14-17 February 2012
Bossey, Switzerland

1.  Churches are witnesses to armed violence, assist the people it affects and share in the suffering it causes.  Millions of lives are shattered or lost in armed violence each year, roughly two-thirds of them in countries ostensibly at peace.  Badly regulated exports, imports and transfers of weapons must bear part of the blame.  Unlawful and illegitimate use of such arms facilitates many forms of violence, intensifies armed conflicts, and undermines social and economic development.

2.      After a century of progress in extending international legal protections to individuals and to peoples, there is still no universal treaty to control commercial transactions of conventional arms.  Binding legislation is ever more urgent because, in an era of unprecedented military expenditures and burgeoning international trade, deadly weapons still change hands with less scrutiny than shipments of household appliances.

3.      In 2009, after years of discussion, 153 governments including those with the largest trade in arms voted at the United Nations to negotiate “a legally binding instrument on the highest possible common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms”.  This Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is to be negotiated in July 2012.  Many governments have taken part in the preparations and in July 2011 they agreed on a summary of the key provisions to be negotiated into a future Arms Trade Treaty.   A handful of important players, however, may obstruct the majority of governments and civil society groups that wish to build on the achievements of the ATT process as of 2011.  There are differences over what to include in the term ‘arms’, what activities count as ‘trade’,  and what details arms suppliers and recipients must report.  Factors in play at a deeper level include the international status of states, the commercial benefits of the arms trade and the military influence within governments.

4.      A treaty to regulate the arms trade must address which arms change hands, how arms change hands, who the arms came from and where they end up.  A treaty can help to reduce armed violence if it improves controls over the whole chain of suppliers, exporters, brokers, importers, recipients, and end-users.   The best existing multilateral and national regulations indicate that the arms trade can be reformed.

5.      Sovereign governments and the arms industry are essential parties in the development of an ATT.  They both bear public responsibilities to populations that share a common destiny within an increasingly interdependent world.  The ATT is about trade, yet the arms trade is not a normal business.  Most states recognize the fact by imposing national controls.  Similarly, more and more industries today are taking responsibility for the impact of their products and the arms industry must do likewise.  States and arms manufacturers must recognize that the negotiation of the ATT presents a critical opportunity to protect a global public good.

6.      The arms trade raises concerns that lie at the heart of Christian faith including belief in the sanctity of life, the commandment not to kill, and the biblical injunction to love one’s neighbours.  In that spirit the World Council of Churches has repeatedly called churches to actions such as developing institutions that build security and well-being for all, denouncing militarism and promoting disarmament.  In 1978, during the UN First Special Session on Disarmament, the WCC condemned the manner in which arms sales, and the flow of arms from richer countries, fuel conflicts in poorer countries.   In 2001, the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs called governments at a major UN conference on the illicit trade in small arms “to control arms transfers in the context of and consistent with the obligations of states, including the obligation not to acquire arms for purposes other than or beyond levels needed for self-defence, to ensure the least possible diversion of resources to armaments, and to the obligation to protect the welfare and rights of its citizens”.  In 2005, the WCC executive committee called on governments to “negotiate a comprehensive and legally binding treaty” on arms transfers and to “ensure that any such Arms Trade Treaty sets clear criteria for compliance and verification”.  Member churches were also urged to advocate for “the adoption of an effective international Arms Trade Treaty”.  In 2011, the WCC central committee endorsed an ecumenical campaign on the Arms Trade Treaty.

7.      Churches, church members and related organizations support a treaty that will ultimately save lives and protect communities which current trade practices put at risk.  In order to reduce unlawful armed violence such a treaty must be both strong and effective.  An ATT that is strong will apply to all categories of conventional weapons.  It will also reinforce existing obligations of states to protect life under international law and other international norms.  An ATT that is effective will have provisions for reporting, transparency, accountability and enforcement that serve to protect communities, nations and regions affected by poorly regulated transfers of arms.

8.      The treaty provisions of key concern to the World Council of Churches are also important to a broad spectrum of civil society organizations and governments.  Churches share the conviction that the treaty must include the following human-centered provisions.  States must be legally bound to assess whether there is a substantial risk that a specific transfer of arms will be used to facilitate serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.  The treaty must require states to deny a license or other authorization where there is a substantial risk that the transfer in question will seriously impair sustainable development or will perpetuate a pattern of gender-based violence.  The treaty should also address the need for assistance to survivors of armed violence.  The ATT must apply to the whole scope of conventional weapons because of the wide array of arms in use today and the fragmented nature of the international arms industry.  The scope of the treaty should also be flexible to allow for future revisions to include new armaments.

9.      The World Council of Churches affirms an arms trade treaty as a legal instrument that has three complementary tasks.  It must prevent arms transfers to states where the government poses a threat to its own people or to other states.  It must improve trade controls so that, where there is a high risk of re-export or diversion to organized criminals or armed groups, arms smuggling and black market sales are reduced or stopped.  The ATT must also serve to protect communities and save lives.

Therefore, affirming ecumenical engagement and advocacy for robust regulation of the arms trade, the executive committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, 14-17 February 2012:

A.     Commends the WCC member churches and related organizations taking part in the Ecumenical Campaign for a Strong and Effective Arms Trade Treaty;

B.     Encourages other member churches to join the campaign and to cooperate with like-minded civil society associations and governments in advocacy for the treaty, and invites church representatives to sign the Inter-Faith Declaration on the Arms Trade Treaty issued by the Control Arms Coalition;

C.     Emphasizes that the Arms Trade Treaty must cover all types of conventional weapons and their components including small arms, light weapons, ammunition and parts, as well as police and security equipment; and allow for future revisions to include new weapons;

D.   Encourages WCC member constituencies and networks to urge their respective governments to adopt an Arms Trade Treaty in which states are legally bound to deny an arms transfer where there is a substantial risk that the transfer: will be used to facilitate serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law; will seriously impair activities related to sustainable development; or will perpetuate a pattern of gender-based armed violence; and states address the need for survivor assistance;

E.     Calls on governments to ensure that the treaty provisions for implementation, cooperation, monitoring and evaluation serve to assist all states parties in fulfilling the criteria of the treaty and in implementing its requirements;

F.      Commends the July 2011 summary document of the ATT preparatory process as the basis for negotiating the Arms Trade Treaty, with stronger provisions for mandatory and comprehensive record-keeping and transparency, for international assistance and cooperation among states parties, and for survivor assistance;

G.    Recommends that important decisions in the negotiation of the Arms Trade Treaty be reached using UN procedures in which consensus is achieved by a large majority after comprehensive deliberations;

H.    Insists on the participation of representatives of civil society organizations as observers during the July 2012 Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty and in subsequent treaty conferences, maintaining the practice adopted during the preparation of the ATT or expanding it;

I.       Extends support to the United Nations and other multilateral fora in their efforts to recognize and address the adverse relationship between expenditures on armaments and expenditures on economic and social development.