By Nicky Buxton

Why You Should Watch This:

More than 740,000 people die every year as a result of armed conflict. Who fuels these conflicts? Which nations provide the arms and munitions that enable dictators, gangs, and human rights abusers to kill, rape, torture, and forcefully evict innocent civilians? The U.S., Russia, France, the UK, China, Germany and Italy are the seven biggest traders of conventional arms, accounting for 90% of total arms exports to developing nations. Meanwhile, there exists no international law or treaty that prevents arms exporting countries from providing weapons to governments who are likely to use them to commit human rights violations or resell them to third parties.

A convening is now underway, and ends tomorrow, at the UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty to negotiate the first global framework for arms trade. To coincide with the convening, Amnesty International (AI) launched a campaign to pressure the United Nations to adopt an effective Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). AI’s campaign includes an innovative video component called “No Arms for Atrocities.”

 Video Facts:

  • Title of Video: “No Arms for Atrocities”
  • Date Created/Posted: 08 June 2012
  • Length: 2:09 minutes
  • Produced by: Amnesty International (AI)
  • Location: International
  • Human Rights Issues: Unregulated conventional arms trade enabling human rights violations and armed conflict

Goal: “No Arms for Atrocities” has three related goals: awareness, action, and policy change. The first goal is to raise public awareness about the unregulated nature of the conventional arms trade, particularly by pointing out that countries like the U.S. enable human rights violations in the developing world by supplying munitions to governments with questionable human rights records. The second goal is to rally the audience to take specific action through petitions, which demand that arms exporting countries stop valuing profit over human rights. The third and ultimate goal is for these public actions to pressure the UN to establish an ATT that will prevent the export of arms to governments that violate human rights.

Primary Audience: The intended audience of the video seems to be people who are unaware of the unregulated nature of the conventional arms trade and who would be moved to take the action of signing an online petition once informed. I believe the video effectively targets the citizens of the six arms trading countries that appear in it (the U.S., Russia, China, France, the UK, and Germany) with the possible result that these viewers will be outraged by their countries’ irresponsible trade practices and will sign the petition and share it through social media. The video is translated into Spanish, French, Chinese, Russian, Portuguese, and Arabic; it is surprising that AI didn’t create a German version.

Message: The message is straightforward: due to the unregulated arms trade, the world’s biggest powers enable and promote armed conflict in the developing world, which kills and injures hundreds of thousands of people each year. Thus, the world’s most powerful countries are largely responsible for these armed conflicts and the human rights violations that occur in the developing world.

Content/Style/Voices: The backdrop of Tahrir Square in Cairo is symbolic in that many of the world’s biggest powers supplied (and, in some cases, continue to supply) arms to repressive regimes in the Middle East who employ/employed live ammunition to quell popular uprisings of the Arab Spring. The fictitious portion of the video poignantly simplifies the unregulated process of the current arms trade. Live footage of a civilian’s wounded or dead body in the street of a Middle Eastern city illustrates the dire human consequences. Voice isn’t utilized, nor do I believe it is necessary; the footage (both fictitious and real), supplemented with a few lines of summarizing text, stands on its own to powerfully communicate the film’s message and deliver the ask of signing the petition.

Did you know? The world’s most powerful countries make unethical arms transfers in order to make a profit. The value of all arms transfers in 2010 was $40.4 billion, with the U.S.’s share valuing $21.3 billion. (The U.S. supplies arms to over 170 countries, many of which have poor human rights records.) However, the global annual burden of armed conflict adds up to $400 billion. Developed nations pay much of this cost through development and humanitarian aid. Thus, it would be much more cost-efficient for wealthy countries to simply not transfer arms to untrustworthy governments in the first place.

Suggested Resources:

ATT Outcomes:

A first draft of the ATT was released this past Tuesday and was largely critiqued by NGOs for being too vague and lacking teeth. Peter Herby, head of the Arms Unit at the International Committee of the Red Cross said of the text, “All the core provisions of this draft treaty still have major loopholes which will simply ratify the status quo, instead of setting a high international standard that will change state practices and save lives on the ground.”

The UN Conference on the ATT ends tomorrow. Will the UN Member States find the will and backbone to close the loopholes and produce an ATT that will be effective and enforceable? Follow the latest developments on the UN Conference’s website, on Twitter @ATT_Conference, and on the ATT Monitor blog.

Nicky Buxton is an Administration and MENA Program intern at WITNESS. He is currently an undergraduate student at Tufts University, studying International Relations, Peace and Justice Studies, and Arabic.

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