While there are international treaties to control the sale of goods from dinosaur bones to postage stamps and bananas, there has thus far been no such treaty to control the trade in weapons worldwide. Two-thirds of the largest arms importers and half of the biggest arms exporters in the world have relatively weak anti-corruption controls. Today, the United Nations General Assembly has taken an important step to change this as an overwhelming majority of states voted in favour of the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).
Transparency International (TI) very much welcomes this historic moment. It is the result of years of work by concerned countries, its diplomats and TI’s partners in civil society—particularly the Control Arms coalition. It is also the result of TI’s own work with governments, institutional investors and the defence industry towards a robust ATT fortified by strong anti-corruption measures.
Alongside its partners in the Control Arms coalition, TI is calling on states to see the treaty as a starting point to set new international standards. Once passed, states should aim high in their implementation plans and to sign and ratify the treaty as soon as possible. As many states have pointed out: the Arms TradeTreaty will be ‘a floor, not a ceiling’.
Three sections in the ATT will help states to address the corruption risks at the various stages of an arms transfer:
As part of the strictest level of arms export assessment criteria (alongside international humanitarian law and human rights law), in Article 7.1.b.iv. thetreaty mandates that states shall not authorise an export if there is a risk that the arms in question could be used to “commit or facilitate an act constituting an offence under international conventions or protocols relating to transnational organised crime to which the exporting State is a Party.”
As is clearly pointed out in the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime, to which 174 States are Party, these offences include both corruption and money laundering.
- The phenomenon of diversion of weapons away from their intended end-user (e.g. from police and security forces to criminal groups) has been one of the key arguments for why states want an ATT. Consequently, an entire article (Art. 11) is now devoted to diversion. The risk of diversion is a reason to refuse an arms export license. Article 11.5 discusses the relevant information about illicit activities that states should share with each other to better comprehend and to prevent diversion. The first element listed is corruption. This is important as it establishes a clear link between the diversion assessment and information about corruption or corrupt practices.
- Under “International Cooperation” in Article 15.6, “State Parties are encouraged to take national measures and to cooperate with each other to prevent the transfer of conventional arms [...] becoming subject to corrupt practices”. This article thus calls upon states to take action at the national level beyond the risk assessment, and to actively work with others at the international level to address corruption risks preventively.
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