This is another blog by IANSA women who participated in the Arms Trade Treaty Preparatory Committee (ATT PrepCom) from 28 February - 4 March 2011. It was published in the ‘Arms Trade Treaty Monitor’, a joint initiative of Reaching Critical Will of WILPF, Global Action to Prevent War, Oxfam International, and IANSA.

The Arms Trade Treaty: Why Women?

In discussions on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), many States have questioned the necessity to explicitly mention gender-based violence, if the ATT already mentions international human rights law and international humanitarian law. Violence against women is indeed a violation of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, in times of armed conflict.

So why specifically mention gender-based violence?

Women are often the target of both sex-specific and other forms of violence, not only in times of conflict but also in ordinary times. The ways in which conventional arms and ammunition facilitate violence against women is a cross-cutting issue that demands more attention. To put it simply, it would not be possible to rape women in front of their communities and families, on such a large scale in much of the world’s conflicts if there weren’t such a wide availability of small arms and light weapons. In non-conflict or post-conflict situations such as Haiti and the Balkans, small arms facilitate widespread sexual and domestic violence. To protect women’s rights, the relevant binding international instruments covering gender-based violence, including rape and sexual violence, must be applied in arms transfer decisions.

States and UN bodies have realized the importance of specifically addressing violence against women, in both armed conflict and in other situations. During the passed decade, the UN Security Council and General Assembly have passed a number of resolutions specific to gender-based violence, recognizing the necessity to emphasize it separately, even though women’s rights form part of international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

The Security Council decided to take up women, peace and security as a separate thematic topic In 2000, after a bloody decade of peacekeeping failures, such as in Somalia, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. As part of the examination of the broader atrocities committed, it became clear that, in Rwanda and Bosnia in particular, significant attacks had occurred specifically targeting women, including reports of systematic sexual violence. This approach should also be reflected in the ATT.

Discussions on the ATT present an important opportunity to examine the tools used to facilitate and commit acts of gender-based violence, most often small arms and light weapons (SALW) in the context of decisions concerning international transfers of conventional arms.

How can the ATT help prevent gender-based violence? IANSA Women propose three possibilities to include gender-based violence in the “Criteria” section of the ATT, as follows:

“A State party shall not authorize a transfer of arms if there is, in the view of the potential transferring State, a substantial risk that those arms would:…”

  1. Be used to perpetuate or facilitate high levels of gender-based violence, in particular rape and other forms of sexual violence.
  2. OR Be used to perpetuate a pattern of or facilitate high levels of firearms-related homicide, serious injury or gender-based violence.
  3. OR to be included in existing Criterion (): Be used to commit or facilitate violations of international humanitarian law, in particular/including gender-based violence, including rape and other forms of sexual violence.

It is the legal obligation of states “to refrain from engaging in gender-based violence” and to incorporate this issue in all policies at all levels in all areas (Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, 1993). This is particularly important with respect to preventing rape and other forms of sexual violence, that are, under international law, recognized as a specific form of “war crimes, crimes against humanity and a constitutive element of genocide (UNSCR 1325, 1820, 1888).

Posted by Rebecca Gerome, IANSA Women’s Network