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Nations optimistic about UN global arms trade treaty deal

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Sept. 24, 2012: Clouds are reflected off the Secretariat Building of the U.N. headquarters in New York. (Reuters)

Supporters of a U.N. treaty designed to regulate the multibillion-dollar global arms trade were optimistic that a final draft circulated a day before Thursday's deadline will reach consensus.

Negotiators reconvened last week in a final attempt to reach a deal on the Arms Trade Treaty, which would require all countries to establish national regulations to control the transfer of conventional arms and to regulate arms brokers.

U.N. diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because negotiations have been private, said Wednesday the United States was virtually certain to go along with the latest text.

Hopes of reaching agreement on what would be a landmark treaty were dashed last July when the U.S. said it needed more time to consider the proposed accord — a move quickly backed by Russia and China. In December, the U.N. General Assembly decided to hold a final conference and set Thursday as the deadline for reaching agreement.

"We need a treaty," China's U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong told The Associated Press. "We hope for consensus."

Questions remain on whether Iran, Egypt, India and several other countries that had serious concerns about the text would go along with the draft, which requires agreement of all 193 U.N. member states for adoption.

There has never been an international treaty regulating the estimated $60 billion global arms trade. For more than a decade, activists and some governments have been pushing for international rules to try to keep illicit weapons out of the hands of terrorists, insurgent fighters and organized crime.

"It's important for each and every country in the world that we have a regulation of the international arms trade," Germany's U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig told the AP. "There are still some divergencies of views, but I trust we can overcome them."

The draft treaty does not control the domestic use of weapons in any country, but it would require all countries to establish national regulations to control the transfer of conventional arms, parts and components and to regulate arms brokers. It would prohibit states that ratify the treaty from transferring conventional weapons if they would violate arms embargoes or if they would promote acts of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.

The final draft makes this human rights provision even stronger, adding that the export of conventional arms should be prohibited if they could be used in the commission of attacks on civilians or civilian buildings such as schools and hospitals.

The National Rifle Association has portrayed the draft treaty as a threat to gun ownership rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and has lobbied to defeat the proposal at the U.N.

The NRA last week praised the Senate's passage of an amendment to the Democratic budget proposal that would prevent the U.S. from entering into the treaty.

The measure, introduced by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., passed on a 53-46 vote.

"Thanks to the efforts of Senator Inhofe, we are one step closer to ensuring the U.N. will not trample on the freedoms our founding fathers guaranteed to us,” Chris W. Cox, executive director of NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement released following the vote.

Ammunition has been a key issue, with some countries pressing for the same controls on ammunition sales as arms, but the U.S. and others opposed such tough restrictions. The draft calls for each country that ratifies the treaty to establish regulations for the export of ammunition "fired, launched or delivered" by the weapons covered by the convention.

The Control Arms coalition, which represents about 100 organizations worldwide campaigning for a strong treaty, and diplomats from countries that support them, said this wouldn't cover hand grenades and mines.

India and other countries had insisted that the treaty have an opt-out for government arms transfers under defense cooperation agreements. The new text appears to keep that loophole, stating that implementation of the treaty "shall not prejudice obligations" under defense cooperation agreements by countries that ratify the treaty.

"Making this treaty was like making a sausage: Everyone has added an ingredient," said Ted Bromund, a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

"Unfortunately, that has produced a document that leans much too far towards satisfying the concerns of the Arab Group and Mexico. The former view it as a rebellion prevention plan, while the latter wants a text that edges towards its view that the domestic firearms market in the U.S. should be subject to treaty regulation," he said.

But Daryl Kimball, executive director of the independent Washington-based Arms Control Association, said, "The emerging treaty represents an important first step in dealing with the unregulated and illicit global trade in conventional weapons and ammunition, which fuels wars and human rights abuses worldwide."

He said the text could have been stronger and more comprehensive, but it can still make an important difference.

"The new treaty says to every United Nations member that you cannot simply 'export and forget,'" Kimball said.

In considering whether to authorize the export of arms, the draft says a country must evaluate whether the weapon would be used to violate international human rights or humanitarian laws or be used by terrorists or organized crime. The final draft would allow countries to determine whether the weapons transfer would contribute to or undermine peace and security.

Anna Macdonald, Oxfam's head of arms control, said the scope of the weapons covered in the latest draft is still too narrow.

"We need a treaty that covers all conventional weapons, not just some of them," she said. "We need a treaty that will make a difference to the lives of the people living in Congo, Mali, Syria and elsewhere who suffer each day from the impacts of armed violence."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.