Negotiators from about 150 countries gathered in New York yesterday for a final push to hammer out a binding international treaty to end unregulated conventional arms sales, a pact that a powerful US pro-gun lobby is urging Washington to reject.
Arms control campaigners and human rights advocates say one person every minute dies worldwide as a result of armed violence, and that a treaty is needed to halt the uncontrolled flow of weapons and ammunition that they say helps fuel wars, atrocities and rights abuses.
The UN General Assembly voted in December last year to relaunch negotiations this week on what could become the first global treaty to regulate the world’s US$70 billion trade for all conventional weapons — from naval ships, tanks and attack helicopters to handguns and assault rifles — after a drafting conference in July last year collapsed because the US, then Russia and China, wanted more time.
The current negotiations will run through March 28.
The US says it wants a strong treaty, but US President Barack Obama is under pressure from the pro-gun lobby National Rifle Association to block the pact. The group has vowed to torpedo the convention’s Senate ratification if Washington backs it at the UN.
US Secretary of State John Kerry voiced conditional support for the treaty on Friday, saying Washington was “steadfast in its commitment to achieve a strong and effective Arms Trade Treaty that helps address the adverse effects of the international arms trade on global peace and stability.”
However, he repeated that the US — the world’s No. 1 arms manufacturer — would not accept a treaty that imposed new limits on US citizens’ right to bear arms, a sensitive political issue in the US.
The point of the treaty is to set standards for all cross-border transfers of any type of conventional weapon — light and heavy. It would also set binding requirements for nations to review all cross-border arms contracts to ensure the munitions will not be used in human rights abuses, do not violate embargoes and are not illegally diverted.
Diplomats say that if the treaty conference fails to reach the required consensus because the US, Russia or another major arms producer opposes it, nations can still put the draft treaty to a vote in the UN General Assembly. The other alternative is to amend the draft to make it acceptable to the US and other delegations, but supporters of the treaty fear that could lead to a weak and meaningless pact.