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The Arms Trade Treaty

The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is the first global legal instrument setting out common international criteria for the authorization (or prohibition) of transfers of conventional arms. Adopted by vote by the General Assembly on 2 April 2013, it entered into force on 24 December 2014, three months after obtaining the fifty required ratifications in an exceptionally rapid process. To date, the Treaty has been ratified by 113 States and signed by 28.

The ATT, which is the first treaty of its kind, has two main objectives: to regulate or improve the regulation on the trade of conventional weapons and to prevent/suppress their illicit trafficking, in order to contribute to international security, reduce human suffering and promote responsible actions in this area by States.

The Treaty applies to eight categories of conventional weapons. Modelled on those contained in the United Nations Register of Conventional Weapons, the eight categories of the ATT scope include ammunition, small arms and light weapons. The “heart” of the Treaty consists of the provisions contained in Articles 6 and 7: the first sets out the cases in which arms transfers are prohibited (if these are violation of sanctions such as UNSC arms embargoes, or if the arms to be transferred could be used in the commission of acts of genocide, crimes against humanity or violations of the Geneva Conventions of 1949).

Art. 7 lays out criteria that States Parties must consider when deciding on arms export authorizations. In particular, such authorizations should not be granted if the transferred weapons could lead to the commission or facilitation of:

– Serious violations of international humanitarian law;

– Serious violations of international human rights law;

– Acts in breach of international conventions on terrorism;

– Acts in breach of international conventions of international organized crime.

When deciding on arms export applications, States Parties will also have to take into account the risk that the transferred weapons could be used to commit or facilitate serious acts of gender-based violence or serious acts of violence against women and children.

The ATT also contains provisions – albeit with a much lesser level of detail – relating to the control of weapons imports, transits/trans-shipment, and brokering. A “robust” article is dedicated to measures aimed at preventing, identifying and stemming arms diversion flows from the licit to the illicit market. Of these, information exchange and international cooperation occupy a particularly important place.

Other Treaty measures relate to record-keeping (art. 12), annual national reporting (art. 13), and international cooperation and assistance (arts. 15-16). From the institutional point of view, the ATT establishes a Conference of the States Parties as the primary decision-making organ, which is also tasked with reviewing and assessing progress in treaty implementation, and a Secretariat. As a result of the decisions taken by the first Conference of the States Parties in august 2015 Cancún, the Secretariat was established in Geneva.

Italian participation in the ATT

Italy, that was the first EU country to ratify the ATT (September 2013), consider this Treaty as a fundamental instrument not only to regulate the conventional arms trade, but also to promote the respect for human rights. In italy’s view, the criteria spelled out in art. 7 are critical. The provisions relating to the prevention of acts of gender-based violence, in particular, constitute one first inclusion of the notion of human security in the broader context of global security. More generally, the Treaty introduces important measures of control and transparency in the arms trade, and brings to the fore the social, humanitarian, economic, and safety consequences of illicit and irresponsible arms transfers.

Italy has played a very active role during the whole process leading to the adoption of the ATT, stressing, from the start, the need for a legally binding global instrument that, while respecting the legitimate right to self-defence and the provisions UN Charter, would create obligations able to guarantee that conventional arms transfers decisions would be taken legally and responsibly. For Italy, the ATT is grounded on the strong belief that an unregulated or irresponsible arms trade foster armed conflicts, terrorism and organized crime; result in human rights and international humanitarian law violations; destabilize countries and regions, and create serious obstacles to economic and social development.

In line with these positions, Italy participated in the Group of Governmental Experts established by UNGA resolution 61/89 (2008), which was mandated to examine the “the feasibility, scope and draft parameters for a comprehensive, legally binding instrument establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms”.


Main Statements

Ninth Conference of the States Parties (Geneva, 21-25 August 2023): General Debate (Amb. Leonardo Bencini, 22 August)

Eighth Conference of the States Parties (Geneva, 22-26 August 2022): General DebateThematic debate on post-shipment controls (Min. Plen. Alberto Cutillo, 22 August)

Third Conference of the States Parties (Geneva, 11-15 September 2017): General Debate (Amb. Vinicio Mati, 11 September)

Second Conference of the States Parties (Geneva, 22-26 August 2016): General Debate (Amb. Vinicio Mati, 22 August)

First UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (2-27 July 2012): General Debate (Amb. Cesare Maria Ragaglini, 5 July)


Documents and Resources

Arms Trade Treaty text

Final Report of the 2017 Conference of the States Parties

United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (New York)

The UN Register of Conventional Arms

Control Arms Campaign

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute: ATT

Arms Control Association: The Arms Trade Treaty at a Glance