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Talks resume on landmark UN arms trade treaty

Text by Anne-Diandra LOUARN

Latest update : 2013-03-19

Negotiators have resumed talks on a United Nations treaty that would regulate the sales of conventional weapons. The draft pact could be watered down by countries seeking to exclude ammunitions and whole weapon categories from the treaty.

Two people die worldwide every minute as a result of armed violence. This grim statistic is the main argument for supporters of a legally binding international treaty on the sales conditions of conventional weapons.

Negotiators from around 150 countries are meeting in New York on Monday to hammer out an accord that would halt the uncontrolled flow of arms and ammunitions and regulate the world’s $70 billion trade for conventional weapons. The current negotiations are set to run through March 28.

Arms control campaigners insist that any arms trade treaty would need to be ratified by six key weapons exporters – the US, Russia, China, France, Germany, and the UK – to be credible. World powers came close to an agreement in July 2012 but the US eventually backed away from the treaty, closely followed by Russia, China, and India.

Is the United States ready for a deal?

Washington is under pressure from pro-gun lobbies like the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA), which claims that some of the treaty’s provisions would infringe on the US Second Amendment freedoms relating to US gun ownership.

Still, Barack Obama is not as vulnerable to NRA lobbying as he was back in July 2012, when he was on the campaign trail to get re-elected. The Newtown school shooting, in which 26 people including 20 children were killed in December 2012, has prompted the US president to push for stricter gun control measures at home.

"We can see that Barack Obama is active on the gun control issue in the United States. That’s why we’re hopeful that he will also act on the international stage with the arms trade treaty", Aymeric Elluin, an arms control campaigner from Amnesty International, told FRANCE 24.

Fresh hurdles threatening the arms trade treaty

The prime purpose of this new meeting is to get support for the final draft written during the July 2012 conference. But NGO and treaty campaigners are concerned that several nations will want to start negotiations from scratch.

"The current draft is satisfying but it needs to be solidified. Nine days of negotiations is short. If we want this treaty, we have to work on improving it on the margins (…) to remove any loophole", said Aymeric Elluin.

One of the hurdles is the issue of ammunitions, described by human right activists as "the fuel of conflict". Washington has already reiterated its opposition to including ammunitions in the treaty, with the US State Department citing concerns over the financial and administrative burdens of keeping checks.

Some key nations such as India are opposed to treaty provisions requiring governments to review export contracts to ensure weapons will not be used in countries where human right abuses are committed. According to Amnesty International, there is a direct link between arms trade and violence against civilians, including sexual abuses perpetrated during armed conflicts worldwide.

Supporters of the treaty have warned that amending the draft to make it acceptable to the US and other arms-exporting nations could lead to a meaningless pact. If the treaty is approved in New York, it will require ratification by national parliaments. It would then take effect in 90 days.

What would be the impact on arms trafficking?

Opponents to the current draft argue that illegal arms trafficking is more harmful than legal cross-border sales. Russia would have preferred a pact focused on preventing black market trafficking and controlling weapons supplies.

Amnesty International’s Aymeric Elluin insisted that the current draft would reduce international arms trafficking, claiming that tight restrictions on traditional arms exports would make cross-border transactions harder for gun traffickers.

The treaty could eventually have a positive effect for the legal arms industries by bringing more transparency to the global market.

"By imposing common rules, this treaty will promote loyal market competition - which didn’t exist until now because governments were not constrained by the same legal requirements”, Aymeric Elluin told FRANCE 24.

Date created : 2013-03-18


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