The landmark Arms Trade Treaty regulates the international trade in conventional arms, from small arms to battle tanks, combat aircraft and warships. Photo: worldislandinfo.com
On April 2, the United Nations General Assembly voted for the first ever Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). This treaty would regulate the multi-billion dollar global arms trade and thus end the lack of regulations of cross-border conventional arms sales. Included in the treaty are binding provisions to prevent armed gender-based violence.
The treaty demands that conventional weapon-exporting states evaluate the risks of arms being used to “commit or facilitate serious acts of gender-based violence or serious acts of violence against women,” (article 7.4) or whether weapons will be used to break humanitarian law, for acts of genocide, war crimes or terrorism. It also requires states to prevent conventional weapons to reach the black market. It is the first treaty that recognizes that there is a connection between arms and gender based violence.
It took seven years to negotiate the treaty, and Iran, North Korea and Syria had blocked its adoption by consensus last minute in March. The treaty’s adoption required agreement by all 193 U.N. member states. British UN ambassador Mark Grant found a way to get around the blockade by asking Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to put it to a swift vote in the General Assembly. There the member-states voted for the treaty by 154 votes to three, with 23 abstentions.
These numbers reflect the growing international sentiment that there must be some kind of a moral standard for weapons trade.
The treaty also establishes an international forum of states that will review published reports of arms sales and publicly name violators.
Before the treaty will come into effect, it needs to be signed and ratified by at least 50 states. There is no specific enforcement mechanism, the hope is that even nations reluctant to ratify the treaty will feel public pressure to abide by the agreement, and that the treaty’s standards will be used immediately as political and moral guidelines.
Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, welcomed the adoption of the treaty, stating that ”The global arms trade must not be a means of aggravating the already catastrophic levels of violence against women around the world, including during conflict and post-conflict. However, UN Women underscores that women are not just of importance to the Arms Trade Treaty as victims of armed violence, but also as peacebuilders and decision-makers. Women’s crucial role in promoting peace and security, recognized in Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) and subsequent resolutions, must be recognized in all mechanisms for the monitoring and management of the arms trade.”
Mervat El-Tallawy, Ambassador and Chairwoman of the National Council of Women in Egypt, who made the CSW57 agreement possible. Photo: Violaine Martin, CC
The 57th session of the Commission of the Status of Women (CSW57) is over. After two weeks of difficult and tough negotiations in New York, the participants of the world’s largest conference on ending violence against women and girls consented on the adoption of a global plan to eliminate and prevent
all forms of violence against women and girls.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that he ”hopes that all the partners who came together at this historic session and others around the world will now translate this agreement into concrete action to prevent and end violence against women and girls.”
One third of all women experience violence
One out of three women experience violence in her lifetime. According to the World Bank, women between the ages of 15 and 44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria. To put an end to this seems like an excellent idea – but apparently not to all countries.
Even in the year 2013, there are countries that try to impede an agreement that is not even legally binding, that apparently don’t go in for a world which is violence-free for women. At CSW57, the Vatican, Russia, Sudan, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Iran had formed what some diplomats called “an unholy alliance” and objected to language in the draft communiqué, asserting that governments can’t use religion, custom and tradition as an excuse to their obligation to eliminate violence. They also objected to references to abortion rights and contraception, as well as to language suggesting that rape also includes forced intercourse by a woman’s husband or partner.
Last year’s conference ended without an agreement – and this was close to happening again. What made the alliance countries cave in is not known, but in the end it was only Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood who classified the draft as un-Islamic and warned it would lead to a “complete degradation of society.”
Agreement made possible by the courage of one women
It seems to be thanks to the courage of one woman that the final agreement was signed, besides Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood’s attempts to block it. The head of Egypt’s delegation, politician and diplomat Mervat Tallawy, ignored the members of her own delegation and announced that Egypt would join consensus. “Women are the slaves of this age. This is unacceptable, and particularly in our region,” Mervat Tallawy said afterwards. “It’s a global wave of conservatism, of repression against women, and this paper is a message that if we can get together, hold power together, we can be a strong wave against this conservatism.”
Religion, culture and tradition are no excuses anymore
The 16-page document agreed upon strongly condemns violence against women and girls, affirms that violence against women and girls is rooted in historical and structural inequality in power relations between women and men, and that this persists in every country in the world as a pervasive violation of the enjoyment of human rights, calls for gender equality and women’s empowerment and ensure women’s reproductive rights and access to sexual and reproductive health services.
The document reinforces furthermore the validity of all agreements and resolutions hitherto adopted, urges all states to condemn violence against women and girls and to implement effective national legislation and policies against it. It also recognizes violence against women as an impediment to the social and economic development of states, as well as the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Equal access to power and decision-making is also a demand.
“By adopting this document, governments have made clear that discrimination and violence against women and girls has no place in the 21st century, there is no turning back.” said UN Women.
UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki moon has appointed Zainab Hawa Bangura as new Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. Zainab Hawa Bangura is currently the Minister of Health and Sanitation in Sierra Leone. She is the second person to recieve this mandate, and will replace Margot Wallström, who concluded her two years on the post on the 31st of May this year.
Zainab Hawa Bangura, new UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. Photo: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras.
Zainab Hawa Bangura has worked for over 20 years with issues of governance, conflict resolution and reconciliation in Africa.
She was responsible for managing the largest civilian component within the UN peacekeeping operations in Liberia (UNMIL), and in Sierra Leone she has been an important advocate for the elimination of female genital mutilation, has managed the country’s Peace building commission and been instrumental for the development of national programs on affordable health. She is also an experienced civil society, human and women’s rights campaigner and democracy activist.
Read the UN statement on the appointment of Zainab Hawa Bangura here.