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OHCHR: Arms and human rights

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OHCHR and arms

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OHCHR and arms

About arms and human rights

Every day, civilians suffer the consequences of the accumulation, diversion, illicit transfer and misuse of arms. Armed conflicts are increasingly fought in highly populated areas, so many of those killed and injured by arms are civilians. When social, commercial, infrastructural, cultural, educational, religious and healthcare facilities are damaged, the effects have a long-term impact.

Arms initiate, sustain and exacerbate armed conflict and crime, and destabilize communities globally.

The term ‘arms’ covers the following:

  • Weapons, comprising small arms and light weapons and the seven main categories of major conventional weapons found in the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms:
    • battle tanks,
    • armoured combat vehicles,
    • large-calibre artillery systems,
    • combat aircraft and unmanned combat aerial vehicles,
    • attack helicopters,
    • warships and missiles,
    • missile launchers;
  • Ammunition/Munitions; and
  • Parts and components of weapons and ammunition/munitions.

All States have obligations under international human rights law applicable to transfers of conventional arms. These obligations apply to any state with jurisdiction over a transfer of conventional arms, and cover the export, import, transit, trans-shipment, brokerage and licensed production of conventional arms.

To create a more responsible trade in conventional arms and ammunition, decisions on transfer authorizations based on international human rights obligations should be viewed primarily as a means to prevent serious human rights violations. The decision-making process should occur within a ‘preventative approach’ framework, with the aim of preventing arms transfers where there is a risk that a particular group will use those arms for serious violations of human rights.

Our work on arms and human rights

The Human Rights Council regularly addresses the impact of arms transfers and civilian acquisition, possession and use of firearms on human rights. It focuses on the impact of arms on the enjoyment of human rights and promotes efforts to protect those rights more effectively.

The United Nations Coordinating Action on Small Arms (CASA) is the UN system-wide internal-agency coordination mechanism on small arms, the arms trade, ammunition and armed violence issues.

UN Human Rights seeks to support Sustainable Development Goal 16, in particular the goals of reducing violence, and significantly reducing illicit financial and arms flows by 2030.