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5 Sep 2022

UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights

UN Working Group publishes new information note on business and human rights in the arms sector

"Responsible business conduct in the arms sector: Ensuring business practice in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights" 30 August 2022

The ongoing conflict in Yemen has killed more than 380,000 people, at least 154,000 of whom died due to direct combat and violence. International actors consistently suggest that the Coalition may have committed war crimes in the course of its tens of thousands of airstrikes in Yemen, including the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen and the UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, each of which found that some Coalition airstrikes have been indiscriminate and may amount to war crimes.

This example demonstrates clearly that while the regulatory framework governing the arms sector contains provisions prohibiting the export of weapons where they are at clear risk of being used in violation of international humanitarian law (IHL) or international human rights law (IHRL), arms products and services are still exported to States where they are used to commit a wide variety of human rights violations, including potential war crimes and crimes against humanity.

That arms continue to be exported into contexts of severe human rights violations results from the confluence of several factors—a lack of accountability for States that ignore human rights provisions in arms control laws for national security or commercial reasons; an arms sector regulatory framework that grants States leeway to interpret human rights conditions permissively; a culture of secrecy and nontransparency around arms exports worldwide; corruption in the arms sector; and a lack of human rights due diligence (HRDD) conducted by arms companies, as well as a failure by States to require them to do so.

This challenge is complex, but stronger application of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (“the Guiding Principles”) across the arms sector—by both States and businesses—is critical to helping to prevent, mitigate, and remedy negative human rights impacts that this sector currently enables.

This information note from the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights (“the Working Group”) aims to highlight the duties of States and responsibilities of businesses in the arms sector, according to the Guiding Principles. In so doing, the note draws on past Working Group output relevant to the arms sector, including reports on business, human rights, and conflict-affected regions and business and human rights and the anti-corruption agendas.

[The full information note is available for download above.]