Associated Press, April 1, 2013
UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. General Assembly is expected to vote Tuesday on what would be the first U.N. treaty regulating the multibillion-dollar international arms trade after Iran, North Korea and Syria blocked its adoption by consensus.
Assembly spokesman Nikola Jovanovic told The Associated Press on Monday that the resolution to adopt the treaty requires support from a majority of the 193 U.N. member states. Since the treaty had strong support when it was brought before U.N. members last Thursday, its approval is virtually certain — unless there are attempts to amend it before the vote.
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.
Hopes of reaching agreement at a U.N. negotiating conference were dashed in July when the U.S. said it needed more time to consider the proposed accord — a move quickly backed by Russia and China. In December, the U.N. General Assembly decided to hold a final negotiating conference to agree on a treaty and set last Thursday as the deadline.
After two weeks of intensive negotiations, there was growing optimism as the deadline approached that all 193 member states would approve the final draft treaty by consensus — a requirement set by the United States. This time, the U.S. was prepared to support the final draft treaty. But Iran, North Korea and Syria objected.
Iran said the treaty had many “loopholes,” is “hugely susceptible to politicization and discrimination,” and ignores the “legitimate demand” to prohibit the transfer of arms to those who commit aggression. Syria cited seven objections, including the treaty’s failure to include an embargo on delivering weapons “to terrorist armed groups and to non-state actors.” And North Korea said the treaty favors arms exporters who can restrict arms to importers that have a right to legitimate self-defense and the arms trade.
Both Iran and North Korea are under U.N. arms embargoes over their nuclear programs, while Syria is in the third year of a conflict that has escalated to civil war and is under U.S. and European Union sanctions. Amnesty International said all three countries “have abysmal human rights records — having even used arms against their own citizens.”
The General Assembly had left open the possibility of a vote on the treaty if it failed to achieve consensus.
Jovanovic said the assembly will meet at 10 a.m. EDT on Tuesday when the first order of business will be a report from the chair of the negotiations, Australian Ambassador Peter Woolcott. That will be followed by the vote.
The draft resolution, obtained by AP, would adopt the Arms Trade Treaty that was put to members last Thursday.
If approved, the resolution asks Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as depositary of the treaty, to open it for signature by member states on June 3. It calls on all nations to consider signing and then ratifying the treaty “at the earliest possible date.”
In a letter to the secretary-general dated Friday, Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant asked the U.N. chief to circulate the draft resolution to all U.N. members on behalf of Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Finland, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, the United States and the United Kingdom.
By the time the draft resolution was circulated Monday, treaty supporters collected a total of 64 cosponsors and they were trying to add more countries before Tuesday’spot vote.
The draft treaty would 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, parts and components and to regulate arms brokers. It would prohibit states that ratify the treaty from transferring conventional weapons if they violate arms embargoes or if they promote acts of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.
The final draft made the human rights provision even stronger, adding that the export of conventional arms should be prohibited if they could be used in attacks on civilians or civilian buildings such as schools and hospitals.
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 or organized crime. The final draft would allow countries to determine whether the weapons transfer would contribute to or undermine peace and security.
The draft would also require parties to the treaty to take measures to prevent the diversion of conventional weapons to the illicit market.