Iran, North Korea, Syria block U.N. treaty to regulate arms trade

AP. Mar 29, 2013

Iran, North Korea and Syria have blocked the adoption of a U.N. treaty that would regulate the multibillion-dollar international arms trade for the first time, arguing it fails to ban sales to terrorists, but other countries are refusing to let the pact die.

The treaty’s adoption required the agreement of all 193 U.N. member states, but some nations said Thursday they would ask U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to bring the final draft before the General Assembly for adoption as soon as possible.

“This is not failure,” British Ambassador to the U.N. Jo Adamson said. “Today is success deferred, and deferred by not very long.”

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.

After two weeks of intensive negotiations, many delegates had been optimistic that consensus was within reach, but Tehran, Pyongyang and Damascus announced they could not support the proposed treaty. 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 a full-blown civil war.

Amnesty International said all three countries “have abysmal human rights records — having even used arms against their own citizens.”

This was the second attempt in eight months to get countries with very different interests behind an arms trade treaty. Hopes of reaching agreement were dashed in July when the U.S. said it needed more time to consider the accord — a move quickly backed by Russia and China.

In December, the U.N. General Assembly decided to hold a final conference and set Thursday as the deadline.

Dan Mahley, the U.S. deputy ambassador to the global body, said Thursday that Washington supported the proposed treaty as “fair and balanced” and looked forward to its quick adoption by the General Assembly.

The United States — along with Britain, Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Finland, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria and Norway — backed Kenya, which announced that because “the will of the overwhelming majority is clear,” it was sending a letter to Ban immediately asking him to bring the treaty before the General Assembly for adoption.

The secretary general did not immediately address the request but expressed deep disappointment at the failure to agree on a treaty text.

“He is confident that the arms trade treaty will come to pass and is encouraged by the shared determination to make this happen as soon as possible,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

The Control Arms Coalition, representing about 100 organizations that have campaigned for a robust treaty, said the earliest the General Assembly could vote is Tuesday, when the chair of the negotiations, Australian Ambassador to the U.N. Peter Woolcott, will present his report to the full world body.

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 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 pact to take measures to prevent the diversion of conventional weapons to the illicit market.

Iran’s U.N. ambassador, Mohammad Khazaee, said the draft treaty has “many legal flaws and loopholes,” is “hugely susceptible to politicization and discrimination” and ignores the “legitimate demand” to prohibit the transfer of arms to those who commit aggression.

“How can we reduce human suffering by turning a blind eye to aggression that costs the lives of hundreds of thousands of people?” he asked.

North Korea’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Ri Tong Il, called the text “a risky draft which can be politically abused by major arms exporters,” citing arms embargoes and human rights as criteria to prohibit arms exports. “Under this, major exporters are entitled to privileges while imposing self-proclaimed restrictions on arms trade to importers, whereas many countries have the right to legitimate self-defense and right to legitimate arms trade,” he said.

Syrian Ambassador to the U.N. Bashar Ja’afari said his country is perhaps the best example of the results of the illicit arms trade. He cited seven objections, including the treaty’s failure to include an embargo on delivering weapons “to terrorist armed groups and to nonstate actors.”


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