UN votes for arms treaty debate

Tue, Dec 25, 2012, 00:00

The UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly yesterday to restart negotiations on a draft international treaty to regulate the $70 billion global trade in conventional arms, a pact the powerful US National Rifle Association has been lobbying hard against.

UN delegates and gun control activists have complained that talks collapsed in July largely because US president Barack Obama feared attacks from Republican rival Mitt Romney before the election if his administration was seen as supporting the pact, a charge US officials have denied.

The NRA, which has come under intense criticism for its reaction to the December 15th shooting massacre of 20 children and six educators at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, opposes the idea of an arms trade treaty and has pressured Mr Obama to reject it.

But after Mr Obama's re-election last month, his administration joined other members of a UN committee in supporting the resumption of negotiations on the treaty.

That move was set in stone yesterday when the 193-nation UN General Assembly voted to hold a final round of negotiations on March 18th-28th in New York.

The foreign ministers of Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Finland, Japan, Kenya and the United Kingdom - the countries that drafted the resolution - issued a joint statement welcoming the decision to resume negotiations on the pact.

"This was a clear sign that the vast majority of UN member states support a strong, balanced and effective treaty, which would set the highest possible common global standards for the international transfer of conventional arms," they said.

There were 133 votes in favour, none against and 17 abstentions. A number of countries did not attend, which UN diplomats said was due to the Christmas Eve holiday.

The main reason the arms trade talks are taking place at all is that the United States - the world's biggest arms trader, which accounts for more than 40 per cent of global transfers in conventional arms - reversed US policy on the issue after Mr Obama was first elected and decided in 2009 to support a treaty.

Obama administration officials have tried to explain to US opponents of the arms trade pact that the treaty under discussion would have no effect on gun sales and ownership inside the United States because it would apply only to exports.

But NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre told UN delegations in July that his group opposed the pact and there are no indications that it has changed that position.

"Any treaty that includes civilian firearms ownership in its scope will be met with the NRA's greatest force of opposition," Mr LaPierre said, according to the website of the NRA's lobbying wing, the Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA).

Reuters