UN debates international arms treaty

Diplomats gather in New York to discuss treaty aimed at limiting trade of illegal conventional weapons.
Last Modified: 18 Mar 2013 20:41
The US held up the last treaty, but top diplomat Kerry says it is committed to reaching an agreement [GALLO/GETTY]

Diplomats from around the world are gathered at the United Nations for talks on an international arms trade treaty, in an effort to stop the sale of illegal conventional arms.

Similar talks held last July failed, mainly due to the objections of the United States and Russia, the world's two largest arms exporters.

The talks kicked off at the UN headquarters on Monday and will last two weeks.

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Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said in a statement he made to the Final Conference on The Arms Trade Treaty that there are global standards regulating the trade of almost everything from t-shirts to tomatoes, but not weapons.

"There are international regulations for furniture, that means there are common standards for the global trade in arm chairs but not the global trade in arms. Families and communities around the world have paid the heavy price," Ban Ki-moon said before the start of the talks.

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, has said his country is committed to reaching an agreement during this round of negotiations. The last round was stalled when the US said it needed more time to consider the proposed accord. Russia and China also asked for a delay.

Kerry said in a statement on 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 said the US will not support a treaty that would be inconsistent with US law and the right of Americans under the Constitution to bear firearms, or a treaty that would impose new requirements on the US domestic trade in firearms and US exporters.

"The United States could only be party to an Arms Trade Treaty that addresses international transfers of conventional arms solely," Kerry said.

National regulations

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 authorise 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.

Many countries, including the United States, control arms exports, but there has never been an international treaty regulating the estimated $60bn 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 anti-state fighters and organised crime.

Paul Holtom, a researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told Al Jazeera that his organisation was hopeful that these talks would be constructive.

"I think there's a challenge, but I think one of the big clouds from July - the presidential elections here in the US - has been lifted, and I think the US will come with a very constructive position, having had time now as requested to study the document and to make proposals to strengthen it," he said.

"The challenge will be that we are having a negotiation between 193 states, who have very different interests with regards to the arms trade, and I think trying to find compromises that still produce a strong treaty, that's where the challenge will be."


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