March 24, 2021

Clinic, Stimson Center publication provides guidance on arms exports and preventing gender-based violence

Posted by Zarko Perovic JD'22 and Anna Crowe

Today, the Clinic launched a new publication on arms exports, the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), and gender-based violence (GBV) with the Stimson Center. The publication contains a questionnaire and explanatory guide that aims to help governments screen arms exports for those that could contribute to GBV, an assessment the ATT requires. The publication builds on the Clinic’s prior work in this area with the NGO Control Arms, including advocacy, trainings with export officials, and authoring interpretive guidance on human rights law, GBV, and the ATT.

Report cover shows sheafs of papers in stacks and magazines of bullets.
The new publication from the Clinic and the Stimson Center contains a questionnaire and explanatory guide that aims to help governments screen arms exports for those that could contribute to gender-based violence, an assessment the Arms Trade Treaty requires.

The 2013 ATT is an international treaty that establishes standards for regulating the international trade in conventional arms, ranging from rifles and shotguns to missile launchers and battleships. As of December 2020, 110 countries are states parties to the ATT. As part of its regulation of international arms exports, the ATT requires that states parties take account of the risk of an export being used to commit or facilitate GBV, a form of violence perpetrated against individuals because of their gender or sex, which takes place in every part of the world. The ATT also requires governments to undertake a broader analysis of the proposed export’s human rights risks, as well as several other factors.

Every country has processes in place to regulate arms exports. Each time an arms exporter applies to export a shipment of arms, a government “licensing officer” must decide whether the proposed arms export should be allowed to proceed – that is, receive an export license – or not. Licensing officers typically must assess the application against a variety of criteria set out in national legislation within a set amount of time. While many governments and individual licensing officers are committed to assessing GBV risks as part of this process, there is currently a gap in implementation in this area. The Clinic-Stimson publication aims to help close this gap by addressing a need licensing officers have expressed for guidance on how to seek out information from within their own governments that would enable better compliance.

The publication contains a set of 10 key questions that licensing officers should ask other officials in their government — such as their embassy officials in the country where the proposed export would be used (the “recipient state”) or other foreign ministry officials –—to help determine the GBV risks a proposed export would pose. For example, licensing officers should ask about the extent and severity of GBV in the recipient state, as well as the human rights record of the entity that would receive the export (often part of the recipient state’s military). They should also ask questions that address the connection between the particular type of arms the exporter hopes to export, the intended users of the arms, and GBV in the recipient state. The publication provides extensive explanatory guidance to help officials answer these questions, including worked examples.

“The questionnaire will help licensing officers stay compliant with the ATT and make sure that the states they work for uphold the commitments they made when they joined the ATT,” said Simon Jerome JD ’22, who worked on the publication as part of a clinical team under the supervision of Anna Crowe, LLM ’12, the Clinic’s Assistant Director. Teammate Laura Clark JD ’21 likewise expressed the team’s hope that the publication “will spur regular and necessary discussions within governments – specifically the parts of governments managing arms exports – about GBV risks and arms.”

In Spring 2020, Maham Malik LLM ’20, Julian Morimoto JD ’21, and Jillian Rafferty JD ’20 worked under Crowe’s supervision to conduct the initial research for the publication, which included undertaking remote interviews with licensing officers in multiple jurisdictions. In Fall 2020, Clark, Jerome, and Zarko Perovic JD ‘22 took on the task of drafting the publication and workshopping it at a virtual roundtable of licensing officers and civil society representatives that the Stimson Center hosted in mid-November.

As well as acting as a reference tool for licensing officers, the publication will also help keep GBV issues on the agenda of ATT states parties more generally. Governments that are part of the ATT have already started to focus on GBV, with gender as the theme of the 2019 conference of states parties, and this publication will feed in to ongoing discussions on GBV at the 2021 conference of states parties. The publication also builds on existing NGO guidance in this space, notably Control Arms’Practical Guide on how to the use the ATT to address GBV and  Preventing GBV through Arms Control, from the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

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