Curbing illicit arms is key to achieving the SDGs


The success of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is intricately linked to the Arms Trade Treaty and effective controls in the arms trade industry. Recently, this linkage has shifted to the centre of ongoing global discussions.

The 2030 Agenda, which was adopted in 2015, includes the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets. The SDGs replaced the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that lasted from 2000 to 2015, and were adopted shortly after the entry into force of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in December 2014.

The success of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is intricately linked to the Arms Trade Treaty

The ATT is an international instrument that regulates the international trade in conventional arms. Its purpose is to prevent and eradicate the illicit trade and diversion of conventional arms by establishing international standards to govern arms transfers.

Article 17 of the ATT lays down the guidelines of its implementation, and states that a ‘Conference of States Parties [CSPs] shall be convened … no later than one year following the entry into force of this Treaty and thereafter at such other times as may be decided by the Conference of States Parties.’

Three CSPs have thus far been convened: first in Mexico (CSP1 in 2015) and then in Geneva (CSP2 in 2016 and CSP3 in 2017). Whereas the first two mainly addressed procedural issues, the third focused on the links and synergies between the ATT and SDGs. As at the time of CSP3 in mid-September 2017, the ATT had 92 states parties and 41 signatory states.

In mid-September 2017, the ATT had 92 states parties and 41 signatory states

The links between the SDGs, the ATT and other arms control instruments are clear. For instance, under Article 6, the ATT prohibits states parties from transferring arms where there are human rights concerns. In Article 7, the treaty provides a list of assessments that an exporting state must conduct on the importing state, prior to authorising the export of arms. If the assessment indicates the that the arms to be exported could be used to undermine peace, security and human rights, such exports must be prohibited.

One of the central objectives of the ATT is to combat transnational organised crime linked to the arms trade. Complementing and aligned to this is SDG Goal 16, which links development, arms control and peace and security. Specifically, Target 16.4 calls on countries to significantly reduce illicit arms flows by 2030 and notes the devastating impact of high-intensity armed conflict on human security.

At the conclusion of CSP3, the states parties determined that the programme of work should explicitly address aspects of the linkages between the ATT and the SDGs, in particular those relevant to their mandates. This decision indicates the commitment of the states to comprehensively address illicit arms flows and human security and development in tandem.

The Arms Trade Treaty is also crucial in combatting gender-based violence

Japan, which will preside over CSP4, committed to promoting the expansion of the ATT and bringing diversity to its adoption and implementation. This would include engaging the Asia-Pacific region, which is not yet party to the treaty.

South Africa, elected as one of the four vice-presidents for CSP4 (alongside Argentina, France and Georgia), has emphasised gender perspectives in relation to the ATT. South Africa further underscored the need for states to sign and ratify the ATT, noting that the treaty was crucial in combatting gender-based violence, and in promoting international peace and security by reducing the suffering experienced by women and children due to armed violence.

The importance of gender equality as it relates to disarmament and development has been further emphasised by a number of actors. In a statement to the UNGA Committee 2017, Nordic countries remarked: ‘Improving gender aspects in disarmament is not “soft policy” – it is smart policy.’ In its statement on conventional weapons, the European Union says the ‘promotion of gender equality, gender consciousness, empowerment of women and prevention of sexual and gender-based violence is an important horizontal priority for the European Union.’

The fourth ATT conference of states parties will further strengthen the connection between the ATT and SDG 16

In a telephonic interview with  Stephen Singo, Deputy Director of the Africa-based Security Research and Information Centre, and who spoke on behalf of Control Arms at the CSP3, said: ‘The commitment that countries have so far demonstrated in exploring the synergies between the ATT and SDGs is a manifestation of a concerted global effort to curb illicit arms flows that, for centuries, has eluded efforts to control.’

Singo is particularly pleased by South Africa’s vice-presidency in CSP4, and says this will help to ensure that African interests are represented. He adds that it may also matter for Africa that the head of the ATT Secretariat, Dumisani Dladla, is also South African.

While it is too early to measure actual progress, it is evident that CSP4 will be a turning point in the formulation of concrete steps to address illicit arms flows. It will set forth the requisite benchmarks and implementation guidelines and further strengthen the connection between the ATT and SDG 16 in reducing illicit arms flows.

Nelson Alusala, Senior Researcher, ENACT, ISS

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