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The global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), created to rein in the poorly regulated international arms transfers that fuel war crimes and serious human rights abuses, will face its first major test in Mexico this week, Amnesty International said today.
The ATT's first Conference of States Parties, taking place in Cancun from 24-27 August, will be attended by dozens of states, including some that have neither signed nor ratified the treaty since its adoption in 2013. Amnesty International, which campaigned alongside NGO partners for more than two decades to make the ATT a reality, will also attend the meeting.
"Cancun marks the first major test for the Arms Trade Treaty, and states will have an important opportunity to make history by following through on the treaty's lifesaving goals," said Marek Marczynski, Head of Military, Security and Police at Amnesty International.
"We'll be making sure the talks don't get bogged down in bureaucracy or lose sight of the ATT's guiding principles - effective and transparent regulation to end the human suffering caused by irresponsible flows of conventional arms."
Transparency is one of the ATT's main objectives since the global trade in arms has, up until now, been shrouded in secrecy. It is also a key means of demonstrating that States are implementing the treaty, and will help to assess how the ATT is being applied in practice.
During the run-up to the Mexico conference, discussions in preparatory meetings focused on the ongoing participation of civil society groups, as well as how much information on arms imports and exports states should report and make publicly available.
Some states are trying to curb the role of civil society by significantly restricting their participation in future ATT conferences and making an increasing number of key decisions behind closed doors in secret sessions.
Amnesty International is also alarmed that states have attempted to strip their ATT reporting requirements down to a bare minimum. This means that they may only be obliged to report on the financial value of transfers annually, without providing crucial details about the size of the shipment, the number of items and an accounting of each category of small arms and light weapons included.
Details about where the weapons would end up and for what purpose would also be secret, which is crucial information aimed at preventing diversion of arms into illicit markets and to unauthorized end users.
"Shutting civil society out of some of the most important discussions and not making annual reports on arms imports and exports public will mean 'business as usual' - arms transfers will remain shrouded in secrecy, undermining the purpose of the ATT. This must not be allowed to happen," said Marek Marczynski.
"A great deal has been achieved through the work of civil society alongside States to win legally binding, global rules on international arms transfers. We look forward to continue playing a constructive role as we move into the implementation phase. States must adopt comprehensive and transparent reporting requirements that give a full picture of the global trade in arms."
Since the early 1990s Amnesty International has campaigned with NGO partners to achieve robust, legally binding, global rules on international arms transfers to stem the flow of conventional arms and munitions that fuel atrocities and human rights abuses. More than a million people around the world joined the campaign.
On 2 April 2013, a total of 155 states voted in the UN General Assembly to adopt the Arms Trade Treaty. It entered into force as binding international law on 24 December 2014, for all states parties.
Five of the top 10 arms exporters - France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK - are among the 72 states around the world to have already ratified the ATT. The USA, by far the largest arms producer and exporter, is among 58 other countries that have signed but not yet ratified the treaty. Other major arms producers like China, Canada and Russia have resisted signing or ratifying the treaty.
The ATT includes a number of robust rules to stop the flow of arms to countries when it is known the arms would be used for genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. Governments that are part of the ATT will now have to carry out objective assessments to avoid an overriding risk that an arms export would be used to commit serious violations of international human rights law or international humanitarian law.
International arms transfers are shrouded in secrecy but the value of the global trade is estimated to be approaching US$100 billion annually.
Amnesty International has continued to document and expose irresponsible arms transfers that contribute to or facilitate grave abuses.
This includes weapons and ammunition predominantly manufactured in the Russian Federation/former Soviet Union, Belarus, Ukraine and China transferred to Sudan, and subsequently used by all sides of the conflicts in South Kordofan and Darfur as well as neighbouring South Sudan. In South Kordofan, Amnesty International has recently documented a series of indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas, including hospitals and schools, of a nature and scale that constitute war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity.
In Iraq and Syria, rampant arms proliferation has seen arms transfers being diverted to the armed group calling itself Islamic State and other armed groups. These arms are being used to facilitate summary killings, enforced disappearances, rape and torture, amongst other serious human rights violations. The spread of arms and ammunition - mostly Soviet/Warsaw Pact-era small arms and light weapons, armoured vehicles and artillery dating back to the 1970s and 80s - has caused untold impact on the civilian population, creating large flows of internally displaced peoples and refugees, impeding access to humanitarian assistance and exacerbating gender-based violence.
The full list of states that have signed and ratified the ATT.
Amnesty International is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights for all. Our supporters are outraged by human rights abuses but inspired by hope for a better world - so we work to improve human rights through campaigning and international solidarity. We have more than 2.2 million members and subscribers in more than 150 countries and regions and we coordinate this support to act for justice on a wide range of issues.
"If Biden lets this case proceed," said one advocate, "future administrations will surely use the precedent of the Assange prosecution... to go after journalists they don't like."
Press freedom groups on Thursday said that following the United Kingdom High Court's rejection of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's appeal against his extradition order to the United States, U.S. President Joe Biden has a choice to make: continue with the federal case against the publisher or stand on the side of journalists everywhere and drop the charges against Assange.
High Court Judge Jonathan Swift on Tuesday handed down the decision rejecting Assange's appeal of an extradition order that was signed a year ago by U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel, leaving Assange's legal team with less than a week to submit another appeal to a panel of two judges.
The judges could convene a public hearing on the case of Assange, who has been charged in the U.S. with violating the 1917 Espionage Act for publishing classified military documents that revealed the United States' alleged war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Press freedom and human rights groups have maintained that Assange has been prosecuted for publicizing government information just as newspapers routinely do and have demanded that the White House drop the charges.
"The idea of Assange or anyone being tried in a U.S. court for obtaining and publishing confidential documents the same way investigative reporters do every day should be terrifying to all Americans," said Seth Stern, director of advocacy for Freedom of the Press Foundation. "It's time for Biden to drop this case and show the world he's serious about press freedom."
\u201cFPF's statement on the rejection of Julian Assange\u2019s extradition appeal.\nhttps://t.co/sbPqRfVH8j\u201d— Freedom of the Press (@Freedom of the Press) 1686247315
The Daily Mail reported Thursday that the U.K. Home Office is currently preparing paperwork to rapidly extradite Assange and that he could be sent to the U.S. "in the next few weeks."
Human rights lawyer Stella Assange, who is married to the WikiLeaks publisher, said Assange will "make a renewed application for appeal to the High Court."
"We remain optimistic that we will prevail and that Julian will not be extradited to the United States where he faces charges that could result in him spending the rest of his life in a maximum security prison for publishing true information that revealed war crimes committed by the U.S. government," she said.
Assange's extradition was originally blocked in 2021 when a Westminster Magistrate Court judge ruled that he should not be sent to the U.S. because of the risk that being held in an American maximum security prison would pose to Assange's mental health.
The High Court overturned that ruling after the U.S. claimed Assange would not be held in highly restrictive prison conditions.
Christophe Deloire, secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), denounced the continued prosecution of Assange as "judicial harassment" and "an attack on global media freedom."
\u201cPresident @JoeBiden, it is now more urgent than ever to put an end to the judicial harassment of Julian Assange and bring the case against him to a close once and for all. Pursuing his extradition and prosecution\u00a0is an attack on global media freedom. It's time to #FreeAssange!\u2026\u201d— Christophe Deloire (@Christophe Deloire) 1686239616
Along with the possibility of a ruling by the High Court in Assange's favor, the European Court of Human Rights could block the extradition following the journalist's appeal to the court last year.
Rebecca Vincent, director of campaigns for RSF, called on Biden to take action instead of leaving it up to British and European judges, in order to end a case that could "land Julian Assange in prison for the rest of his life and permanently impact the climate for journalism around the world."
"The historical weight of what happens next cannot be overstated," said Vincent. "It is time to put a stop to this relentless targeting of Assange and act instead to protect journalism and press freedom. Our call on President Biden is now more urgent than ever: Drop these charges, close the case against Assange, and allow for his release without further delay."
"We trusted the government not to screw us," said Edward Snowden. "But they did. We trusted the tech companies not to take advantage of us. But they did. That is going to happen again, because that is the nature of power."
With this week marking 10 years since whistleblower Edward Snowden disclosed information to journalists about widespread government spying by United States and British agencies, the former National Security Agency contractor on Thursday joined other advocates in warning that the fight for privacy rights, while making several inroads in the past decade, has grown harder due to major changes in technology.
"If we think about what we saw in 2013 and the capabilities of governments today," Snowden told The Guardian, "2013 seems like child's play."
Snowden said that the advent of commercially available surveillance products such as Ring cameras, Pegasus spyware, and facial recognition technology has posed new dangers.
As Common Dreams has reported, the home security company Ring has faced legal challenges due to security concerns and its products' vulnerability to hacking, and has faced criticism from rights groups for partnering with more than 1,000 police departments—including some with histories of police violence—and leaving community members vulnerable to harassment or wrongful arrests.
Law enforcement agencies have also begun using facial recognition technology to identify crime suspects despite the fact that the software is known to frequently misidentify people of color—leading to the wrongful arrest and detention earlier this year of Randal Reid in Georgia, among other cases.
"Despite calls over the last few years for federal legislation to rein in Big Tech companies, we've seen nothing significant in limiting tech companies' ability to collect data."
Last month, journalists and civil society groups called for a global moratorium on the sale and transfer of spyware like Pegasus, which has been used to target dozens of journalists in at least 10 countries.
Protecting the public from surveillance "is an ongoing process," Snowden told The Guardian on Thursday. "And we will have to be working at it for the rest of our lives and our children's lives and beyond."
In 2013, Snowden revealed that the U.S. government was broadly monitoring the communications of citizens, sparking a debate over surveillance as well as sustained privacy rights campaigns from groups like Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Fight for the Future.
"Technology has grown to be enormously influential," Snowden told The Guardian on Thursday. "We trusted the government not to screw us. But they did. We trusted the tech companies not to take advantage of us. But they did. That is going to happen again, because that is the nature of power."
Last month ahead of the anniversary of Snowden's revelations, EFF noted that some improvements to privacy rights have been made in the past decade, including:
"Despite calls over the last few years for federal legislation to rein in Big Tech companies, we've seen nothing significant in limiting tech companies' ability to collect data... or regulate biometric surveillance, or close the backdoor that allows the government to buy personal information rather than get a warrant, much less create a new Church Committee to investigate the intelligence community's overreaches," wrote EFF senior policy analyst Matthew Guariglia, executive director Cindy Cohn, and assistant director Andrew Crocker. "It's why so many cities and states have had to take it upon themselves to ban face recognition or predictive policing, or pass laws to protect consumer privacy and stop biometric data collection without consent."
"It's been 10 years since the Snowden revelations," they added, "and Congress needs to wake up and finally pass some legislation that actually protects our privacy, from companies as well as from the NSA directly."
Fox News brought on a contributor with a history of downplaying the dangers of secondhand smoke and dismissing climate science to tell viewers that particulate matter is "innocuous."
As smoke from massive wildfires in Quebec blanketed much of the eastern U.S., forcing millions to stay indoors as state governments issued code-red air quality alerts, a longtime shill for the fossil fuel and tobacco industries falsely told Fox News viewers late Wednesday that there is actually "no health risk" associated with inhaling such polluted air.
"Look, the air is ugly, it's unpleasant to breathe, and for a lot of people, they get anxiety over it. But the reality is there's no health risk," Steve Milloy, a senior policy fellow at the Energy & Environment Legal Institute, told Fox's Laura Ingraham. "We have this kind of air in India and China all the time—no public health emergency."
Milloy, who has long worked to spread disinformation about climate science and the health risks of secondhand smoke, neglected to mention research showing that air pollution is responsible for millions of deaths per year in China, India, and worldwide.
Watch Milloy's remarks:
\u201cLaura Ingraham - Steve Milloy, a lobbyist, to talk about the thick smoke over the Northeast. He's worked as a consultant for Philip Morris\n\nMilloy also believes\n\nSecondhand smoke doesn't cause cancer\n\nDDT should make a comeback\n\nHuman activity has no affect on climate change\u201d— Decoding Fox News (@Decoding Fox News) 1686205124
A 2021 study by researchers at Harvard University, the University of Birmingham, the University of Leicester, and University College London directly attributed more than 8 million deaths in 2018 to fine particulate pollution (PM2.5).
But Milloy insisted Wednesday that "this doesn't kill anybody, this doesn't make anybody cough, this is not a health event."
"Particulate matter is very fine soot. It's just carbon particles—they're innocuous," Milloy said, pointing to unspecified EPA research. "There's nothing in them. They have no effect."
The EPA website says, to the contrary, that "particulate matter contains microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can be inhaled and cause serious health problems."
"Some particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter can get deep into your lungs and some may even get into your bloodstream," the EPA notes. "Of these, particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, also known as fine particles or PM2.5, pose the greatest risk to health."
Investigative journalist Amy Westervelt observed in response to Milloy's Fox appearance that he "has been trying to recast air pollution—particularly PM2.5—as innocuous for decades, since he was working for Big Tobacco."
"Why is particulate matter such a big deal for his coal and fossil fuel clients? Because regulating it means regulating fossil fuel combustion," Westervelt added.
Meteorologist Eric Holthaus added that "air pollution is literally the 4th highest cause of death globally."
"Every year 9 million people die due to air pollution made worse by fossil fuels," Holthaus tweeted. "The fossil fuel industry knows this AND they lie about it so they can keep making money off of our suffering."
In a deep dive on Milloy's history last year, Westervelt noted that "one of his earliest jobs was running The Advancement of Sound Science Center (TASSC), which was created by Philip Morris and their PR firm APCO in the 1990s to deal with the mounting evidence that linked secondhand smoke and, more broadly, indoor air pollution, to cancer."
"The secondhand smoke issue brought the tobacco industry together with lots of other industries that were worried about air pollution regulation—automotive, manufacturing, and, of course, fossil fuels," Westervelt wrote. "Which is how Milloy, working for the tobacco industry, became one of the first leaders of the climate countermovement."
Tens of millions of people on the East Coast of the U.S. are currently under air quality alerts, with some major cities classifying the conditions as "hazardous."
"Current NYC smoke levels pose a health risk for anyone outside," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) wrote on Twitter Thursday morning.