#16 Days: The Arms Trade Treaty and 16 Days of Action to Prevent and Eliminate Gender-based Violence

Photo Credit: From Poverty to Power, Oxfam GB.
Photo Credit: From Poverty to Power, Oxfam GB.

I tried to climb onto a wall but a ‘red beret’ saw me and hit me with his truncheon while another one shot me in the legs. Three of them took me towards the toilets, dragging me along the ground. One of them raped me while another ‘red beret’ pointed his gun at my head….”

Amnesty International, Guinea: They Ripped off my Clothes with Their Knives and Left Me Completely Naked” Voices of Women and Girls Victims of Sexual Violence, February 2010, AFR 29/002/2010

One person dies every minute from armed violence around the world. How many of those are female deaths related to the irresponsible trade and illicit trafficking of weapons? No one knows. But we do know that rates of femicide—acts of homicide in which the victim is a woman or a girl—are significantly higher in countries and territories affected by high or very high overall homicide rates. Firearms play an important role in lethal violence, and the display of firearms—as a means to intimidate, threaten, or coerce someone—is a predictor of their actual use, according to the Small Arms Survey.

In 2013 the 193-nation UN General Assembly overwhelmingly approved the landmark Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), the first and only treaty on regulating the trade in conventional arms ranging from light weapons to jet fighters and warships. Canada was among those who voted in favour of the treaty.

Gender-based violence was a significant topic during the treaty negotiations. International civil society organizations advocated for including specific criteria to prevent arms export in cases where armed gender-based violence is likely to occur. In a policy paper, these organizations outlined the specific gender dimensions and impacts of the arms trade. They made the case that the ATT should require States not to allow an international transfer of conventional arms where there is a substantial risk that the arms under consideration are likely to be used to perpetrate or facilitate acts of gender-based violence, including rape and other forms of sexual violence.

Although not as strong as hoped, The Arms Trade Treaty includes two references to gender. The first, in the preamble, reminds the states that ‘civilians, particularly women and children account for the vast majority of those adversely affected by situations of armed conflict and armed violence’ and Article 7.4 states that in authorizing the export of conventional weapons the risk of the use of those weapons “to commit or facilitate serious acts of gender- based violence or serious acts of violence against women and children” must be taken into account.

Project Ploughshares, in partnership with other civil society organizations, actively promoted an Arms Trade Treaty since the mid-1990s. Former Senior Program Officer Ken Epps was Co-Chair of the international civil society coalition Control Arms. Ploughshares continues work to ensure that the ATT genuinely contributes to relieving human misery by restricting the illegal and irresponsible movement of arms across borders.

But meanwhile, what of Canada and the ATT?

The treaty will come into force on December 24, 2014, having been ratified or acceded to by the requisite 50 states. Canada, however, has failed to sign or ratify it. The current government says it won’t sign until it is convinced the ATT will not negatively impact legal Canadian firearms owners. Civil society organizations such as Project Ploughshares, Oxfam Canada, Oxfam Quebec and Amnesty International – involved in the treaty’s negotiations since the earliest days – state there is nothing in the text that would prevent Canadians from legitimately owning firearms or that would change the obligations of current gun owners. The ATT focuses on irresponsible and illegitimate transfers between states, and says nothing about regulating domestic firearms ownership by individuals.

The failure to sign and ratify means that Canada will not have a seat at the table to write the rules of operation of this landmark treaty when those states that are party to the treaty meet in 2015. Now that is a shame.


Project Ploughshares, an agency of the Canadian Council of Churches, is a non-governmental organization that works with churches, governments and civil society, in Canada and abroad, to advance policies and actions to prevent war and armed violence and build peace.

Debbie Grisdale is the representative of the Anglican Church of Canada on the Governing Committee of Project Ploughshares.

Photo Credit: From Poverty to Power, Oxfam GB.
Photo Credit: From Poverty to Power, Oxfam GB.

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