Iran, North Korea, Syria block UN arms trade treaty

March 29, 2013 11:33 am | Updated November 16, 2021 10:07 pm IST - United Nations

Iran, North Korea and Syria have blocked adoption of a UN arms treaty that would regulate the USD 70 billion conventional arms trade around the world, saying it fails to ban sales of weapons to groups that commit “acts of aggression.”

The text of the first international treaty on arms trade needs support from all 193 UN member states for its approval.

The draft text came up for approval yesterday after the UN members failed to adopt it in July last year even after month-long negotiations.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed disappointment on the failure of the United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty to reach an agreement on the text, which for the first time would have regulated the international arms trade.

“The treaty had been within reach, thanks to the tireless work and spirit of compromise among Member States,” said a UN statement attributable to the spokesperson of the Secretary General after the draft text fell through due to lack of consensus among its 193 member countries.

Supporting the move of proponents of the supporters of the treaty, Mr. Ban said the draft text was balanced and would have established effective common standards to regulate the international trade in conventional arms.

Given the importance of the issues involved, the UN statement said Ban strongly hopes that Member States will continue exploring ways to bring the treaty into being.

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, the UN statement said.

Iranian UN envoy Mohammad Khazaee told the conference his country could not accept the treaty in its current form.

“The achievement of such a treaty has been rendered out of reach due to many legal flaws and loopholes... One of those flaws was its failure to ban sales of weapons to groups that commit acts of aggression,” he said.

“It is a matter of deep regret that genuine efforts of many countries for a robust, balanced and non-discriminatory treaty were ignored,” he added. Syrian and North Korean envoys echoed similar concerns.

The current draft does not ban sales of weapons to armed groups but says all arms transfers should be subjected to rigorous risk and human rights assessments first.

India and others had complained that the treaty favours the arms exporting nations and remains silent on the illicit trafficking of such weapons to non-state actors.

Britain the main sponsor of the resolution said that though it is disappointed, it has not given up.

“I am deeply disappointed that the negotiations on an Arms Trade Treaty closed today without consensus. After 7 years of intensive work, the international community had never had a better chance to agree a global, legally binding Treaty that would make the world a safer place,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said.

“The UK has played a leading role and spared no effort to secure a Treaty which would be both strong and globally applied, based on consensus. We have come very close. It is disappointing that three countries blocked the historic agreement that lay within our reach,” Hague said.

Observing that this treaty is too important for them to let it end here, he said Britain will not rest until they have secured an effective global Arms Trade Treaty.

“When adopted, this will be the first international, legally-binding Treaty setting controls on the transfers of weapons. It will prohibit transfers that would be used for genocide or war crimes. Arms exports will be refused if they pose unacceptable risks,” Hague said.

Separately human rights organisations blamed Syria, Iran and North Korea for the failure of the treaty.

“By vetoing this historic document Iran, North Korea and Syria demonstrate the challenges civil society and supportive governments faced during the negotiations. In campaigning for this treaty, we called upon states to save lives and reduce human suffering and, fortunately, most governments heeded the call,” said Widney Brown, Senior Director of International Law and Policy at Amnesty International.

“States must move forward with adopting this treaty as soon as possible. The resolution which created this diplomatic conference envisioned that if states failed to reach consensus, the General Assembly would act on this matter,” said Brian Wood, Head of Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International.

Expressing their ‘immense frustration’ over the outcome, the Control Arms Coalition said the historic treaty is still within reach.

Despite a last minute attempt by Mexico, Japan and others to save the process, the President of the Conference reached a conclusion that consensus could not be achieved.

Kenya read a statement on behalf of 12 states, calling for the UN General Assembly to adopt the Treaty by vote as soon as possible.

The earliest this can happen is April 2, next Tuesday, when the President of the Conference Ambassador Peter Woolcott will be presenting his report.

It is widely anticipated the treaty would then pass by majority enshrining in international law for the first time ever a set of rules to regulate the global arms trade.

“The world has been held hostage by three states. We have known all along that the consensus process was deeply flawed and today we see it is actually dysfunctional. Countries such as Iran, Syria and DPRK should not be allowed to dictate to the rest of the world how the sale of weapons should be regulated,” said Anna Macdonald, Oxfam’s Head of Arms Control.

“This is a strong disappointment for Africa. An Arms Trade Treaty is long overdue. Too much blood has been spilt in Africa through armed violence that could have been avoided,” said Baffour Amoa, president of the West African Action Network on Small Arms.

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