UN begins negotiations on a global arms trade treaty aimed at preventing illegal gun transfers

By Edith M. Lederer, AP
Tuesday, July 13, 2010

UN starts talks on global arms trade treaty

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations began negotiations on a legally binding treaty aimed at regulating the global arms trade to help prevent the illegal transfer of guns that kill and injure thousands of people every day.

The General Assembly first voted in December 2006 to work toward a treaty regulating the growing, multibillion dollar arms trade. Last December, the 192-member world body decided to hold a four-week U.N. conference in 2012 to draft an arms trade treaty, and it authorized four preparatory conferences — the first of which began Monday.

There are currently no legally binding international rules governing the trade in conventional weapons, and treaty supporters say gaps and loopholes in national regulations allow thousands of weapons to end up in conflict zones in the hands of serious human rights abusers.

Though only Zimbabwe voted against going ahead with negotiations, the idea of a treaty is contentious.

Argentina’s U.N. Ambassador Roberto Garcia Moritan, chairman of the preparatory process, said “there is a very strong gun lobby that is very vocal sometimes.” That lobby is especially strong in the United States, where the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees citizens the right to “keep and bear arms.”

Garcia stressed that a treaty would not hinder the right to produce, export or import arms — but it is aimed at ensuring common international import and export standards to prevent illegal trafficking.

While such a treaty would not “solve all problems,” he said, it would provide guidelines for buying and selling arms so the weapons couldn’t be used to fuel events like the 1994 Rwanda genocide, where weapons were sold after the killings began.

The Control Arms Campaign, an international network of civil society groups including Amnesty International and Oxfam, urged negotiators to draft “a robust and effective treaty” that saves lives. It said 128 armed conflicts since 1989 have resulted in at least 250,000 deaths each year.

According to the preparatory committee’s agenda, the 192 U.N. member states will be considering “the elements that would be needed to attain an effective and balanced legally binding instrument on the highest possible common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms.”

Garcia said the negotiations would govern not only guns but the sale of fighter planes, unmanned aerial vehicles, missiles and light weapons.

The U.N. adopted a program of action in 2001 on controlling the arms trade which is not legally binding but which Garcia said many countries adhere to. Among other things, it requires countries to report what they are doing to prevent the illicit trafficking of small arms and light weapons.

Garcia said, for example, that he would like to see strong measures in a treaty on the marking of guns so illegal weapons can be traced.

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