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The iconic "Non-Violence" sculpture (a pistol whose barrel is tied into an impotent knot) outside the UN headquarters in New York.
Image: imago stock&people

UN Arms Trade Treaty

April 2, 2013

The United Nations General Assembly has approved a treaty regulating cross-border trade in conventional weapons. The treaty was put to an assembly vote after diplomats failed to pass it unanimously.


The General Assembly overwhelmingly approved the UN's Arms Trade Treaty in a vote on Tuesday, as 154 countries voted in favor of the proposal, three opposed it and a further 23 abstained. The treaty needed two-thirds approval to pass.

Syria, Iran and North Korea, which together blocked the treaty last week as UN diplomats sought consensus approval for the motion, voted against it on Tuesday. India, Sudan, Indonesia and Russia were among the countries that abstained.

Individual member states must now ratify the treaty domestically. It will be officially recognized once 50 countries have done so.

Australian Ambassador Peter Woolcott, who chaired the negotiations, said the treaty would "make an important difference by reducing human suffering and saving lives."

"We owe it to those millions - often the most vulnerable in society - whose lives have been overshadowed by the irresponsible and illicit international trade in arms," Woolcott told assembly members in his final appeal before they voted.

Limited controls on sensitive trade

This is the first treaty seeking some regulation of the international arms trade, which is believed to be worth $70 billion (55 billion euros) per year. It covers cross-border sales of conventional weapons including tanks, combat aircraft, warships, missiles and missile launchers and some light weapons. Domestic weapons sales and legal permission to have guns at home, in those countries where it is granted, are not affected by the paper.

Under the terms of the treaty, countries planning to sell weapons abroad would agree to assess the risk of the arms being used to commit crimes against humanitarian and human rights law. If this risk was deemed "overriding" and could not be mitigated, the treaty said the deal would have to be stopped.

Iran, Syria and North Korea are all under some form of UN sanctions; they complained that the treaty was "susceptible to politicization and discrimination." Syria, in particular, objected to a decision not to include a provision in the treaty forbidding the sale of weapons to "terrorist armed groups and to non-state actors," a measure that Russia had also advocated.

Non-state actors like Amnesty International took part in the UN negotiations.

"As in all treaty negotiations, we did not get everything we wanted, so for example ammunition is not fully included in all the treaty provisions," said Amnesty's head of Arms Control and Human Rights, Brian Wood, referring to one of the amendments secured by the US during the protracted talks. "But since this treaty can be amended and has many strong rules, it provides a firm foundation from which to build an international system to curb the flow of arms to those who would commit atrocities."

msh/jlw (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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