U.N. Treaty Is First Aimed at Regulating Global Arms Sales

by NEIL MacFARQUHAR, The New York Times  |  published on April 7, 2013

UN

The United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to approve a pioneering treaty aimed at regulating the enormous global trade in conventional weapons, for the first time linking sales to the human rights records of the buyers.

Although implementation is years away and there is no specific enforcement mechanism, proponents say the treaty would for the first time force sellers to consider how their customers will use the weapons and to make that information public. The goal is to curb the sale of weapons that kill tens of thousands of people every year — by, for example, making it harder for Russia to argue that its arms deals with Syria are legal under international law.

The treaty, which took seven years to negotiate, reflects growing international sentiment that the multibillion-dollar weapons trade needs to be held to a moral standard. The hope is that even nations reluctant to ratify the treaty will feel public pressure to abide by its provisions. The treaty calls for sales to be evaluated on whether the weapons will be used to break humanitarian law, foment genocide or war crimes, abet terrorism or organized crime or slaughter women and children.

“Finally we have seen the governments of the world come together and say ‘Enough!’ ” said Anna MacDonald, the head of arms control for Oxfam International, one of the many rights groups that pushed for the treaty. “It is time to stop the poorly regulated arms trade. It is time to bring the arms trade under control.”

She pointed to the Syrian civil war, where 70,000 people have been killed, as a hypothetical example, noting that Russia argues that sales are permitted because there is no arms embargo.

“This treaty won’t solve the problems of Syria overnight, no treaty could do that, but it will help to prevent future Syrias,” Ms. MacDonald said. “It will help to reduce armed violence. It will help to reduce conflict.”

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