UNITED NATIONS – The United States is committed to reaching agreement on a strong U.N. treaty to regulate the multibillion-dollar global arms trade during a two-week conference starting Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said.
Hopes of reaching agreement on what would be a landmark treaty were dashed last July when the United States said it needed more time to consider the proposed accord — then Russia and China also asked for a delay.
Kerry said in a statement Friday that the United States looks forward to working with other countries to reach consensus on an Arms Trade Treaty "that helps address the adverse effects of the international arms trade on global peace and stability" by helping to stem the illicit flow of weapons across borders.
He stressed that the U.S. will not support a treaty that would be inconsistent with U.S. law and the right of Americans under the Constitution to bear firearms, or a treaty that would impose new requirements on the U.S. domestic trade in firearms and U.S. exporters.
"The United States could only be party to an Arms Trade Treaty that addresses international transfers of conventional arms solely," Kerry said.
The draft treaty under consideration 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 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.
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, organized crime or for corrupt practices.
Many countries, including the United States, control arms exports, but 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.
Kerry said that while the international arms trade affects every country, more than 100 nations don't have a system for controlling international arms transfers.
"We support a treaty that will bring all countries closer to existing international best practices, which we already observe, while preserving national decisions to transfer conventional arms responsibly," he said.
Kerry said that means responsible nations should have control systems that reduce the risk that conventional arms transfers will be used "to carry out the world's worst crimes, including those involving terrorism, and serious human rights violations."
The National Rifle Association, the powerful gun-rights lobbying group in the U.S., portrayed the treaty last year as a threat to gun ownership rights.
The sensitive issue of gun regulations re-emerged in the United States following the mass shooting by a gunman in December at a school in Connecticut that killed 20 children and six educators.
Amnesty International's Deputy Executive Director Frank Jannuzi said President Barack Obama "must not be cowed or intimidated by the U.S. gun lobby and the NRA."
Jannuzi added: "The unfettered trade of conventional arms has contributed to the deaths of more than 500,000, the displacement of millions, widespread rape and the recruitment and exploitation of children as soldiers. The global arms trade must be regulated, and the United States — the world's largest exporter — should lead the way."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he is confident that the U.N.'s 193 member states will overcome their differences during the upcoming negotiations and muster the political will to reach agreement on a treaty. The U.N. chief reiterated his support for a treaty that regulates international transfers of both weapons and ammunition and sets common standards for exporting states.
Kerry's statement made no mention of the key issue of ammunition.
Jannuzi said the draft treaty in July had a provision that would ban the export of ammunition in cases where a country decided that the export of weapons was prohibited.